William Penn University, Sports Information Director
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. —
The most successful men’s basketball season in William Penn history was coming to an end one way or another Tuesday night, but unfortunately it did not culminate in a victory, as the top-ranked Statesmen fell 73-59 to No. 2 seed Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) in the championship game of the NAIA Division II National Championships.
William Penn had its 20-game winning streak snapped to finish the season at 34-2. The Wolves improved to 35-3 to claim their first title ever.
On a night when everything had to go right for the navy and gold to beat their best opponent of the year, little did. A scoring drought of 6:23 to open the second half was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, undoing for the Statesmen — who were making their first appearance in a championship game in any men’s sport.
The top-ranked squad fought through the rough patch that put it behind by nine points, but never got back within four again.
Cardinal Stritch took an early 5-2 lead, but in a first half that featured four ties and eight lead changes, the biggest lead was only six points. The Wolves took a 39-36 halftime edge.
One problem for William Penn was foul trouble. Keith Steffeck (Sr., Marion) played only the first 3:10 after two early fouls and CSU entered the locker room with a 13-3 advantage in made free throws.
Knowing that they are traditionally stupendous after intermission, hopes were still high that the Statesmen would overcome the deficit.
It was just not meant to be, however, as trip after trip in the early parts of the second half came up empty. The Wolves also struggled and could only extend their lead to nine at 45-36. Brandon Beasley (Sr., Indianapolis) finally broke through with a bucket at the 13:37 mark, while another score slimmed the margin to five. Cardinal Stritch answered with four straight, however, to go back up by nine.
Two small runs narrowed the deficit to four at the 9:23 mark and six at 2:14, but clutch field goals and several free throws by the lower seed unfortunately put the contest out of reach.
In the end, the free throw margin proved to be the biggest killer, though, as CSU went 20-of-25 and WPU was just 7-of-8.
The Statesmen secured a 35-33 win in rebounds and committed two fewer turnovers (12-14) than Cardinal Stritch.
Beasley, who was named to the all-tournament team, put together a great performance in his final collegiate game. The senior was 8-of-18 for a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds. His 66 tournament rebounds were the second most in championship history, while his overall showing also included four steals, three assists, and two blocks.
Steffeck, also an all-tourney selection, joined Beasley in double figures with 12 points and a squad-best three blocks. The Statesmen blocked seven CSU shots.
Kevin Fay (Jr., Hennepin, Ill.) and Blake Walker (Jr., Rose Garden, Ga.) notched seven points each, while Taylor Stoutner (Sr., Keota) contributed six points.
The loss ends the collegiate careers of Beasley, Steffeck, Stoutner, James Devlin (Sr., Tampa, Fla.), Arman Rasul (Chicago), and Davis Spielbauer (Wapello).