Blazers Finish Fifth in Nation

After taking fifth-place for the second time in three seasons on Saturday in the NCCAA Division II national tournament, the Ohio Christian University men's basketball team continued to establish itself as a top team in the nation.

But coach Curtis Christopher is looking for the program to get over a bump in the road, known as the second round of the tournament, and into the Final Four.

"We had a really strong team this year, and we played really strong programs like Grace Bible College, Dallas Christian and Valley Forge Christian to see what it would take against the top teams in the country," Christopher said. "To get us over the top, I think we need to focus on getting a little bigger and rebounding." Christopher especially took note of Grace Bible, which won its third straight national title, and has a starting lineup ranging from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-7.

"We've had good shooters year in and out, but it seems like the big post teams and rebounding teams, like Grace Bible, are the model right now," Christopher said. "They can dribble and shoot the basketball well, but they're not real fast, don't really press and look to beat you up in the post.

"Their signature is allowing their opponent one shot and outrebounding them."

The Trailblazers won three games at the national tournament in Springfield, Mo. to finish at 27-10.

"You're not a top team in the country without a strong core, and we've had that the past two seasons," Christopher said. "This year, Tim and Mike Baker were it for us, and last year we had Rickshontae Spell and Stefan Vasiloff.

"To establish a program at the national level, you can't reload every year. There has to be a core and consistency, and our guys deserve a lot of credit for sticking with this program and graduating from our program."

Tim Baker was one of three Trailblazers to land all-American honor. Junior Tirrell Cumberland made first-team, Tim Baker was second-team and sophomore Jeremy Hays made honorable mention.

OCU also had Tim, Mike and Jon Baker and Mike Farrell land scholar athlete honors.

"That's something we were pretty proud of, to be able to land three on all-American and have four recognized for their academics," Christopher said.

The Trailblazers lose Tim and Mike Baker to graduate but should return the rest of their team.

Tournament recap

First round

Ohio Christian 64,

Portland Bible 61

The fifth-seeded Trailblazers were held to 6 of 21 from the behind the arc in their 64-61 win over No. 12-seeded Portland Bible.

"We struggled shooting from three, but we buckled down in the second half, took the ball to the front of the rim and got some easier looks," OCU coach Curtis Christopher said.

The struggles from the field was unlike OCU, which ended the season ranked first in the nation in points per game with 84.

Tirrell Cumberland led OCU with 21 points.

Second round

Dallas Christian 76,

Ohio Christian 62

Cumberland scored 12 points in limited minutes due to the flu, and center Jeremy Hays got in foul trouble in a 76-62 loss to fourth-seeded Dallas Christian.

"They defended us really well, took away the three and made us put the ball on the court," Christopher said. "We're a team that normally passes through the defense and to have to put the ball on the floor led to a lot of turnovers (23) for us, especially in the second half.

"Having Tirrell limited to a few minutes on and off and having Jeremy in foul trouble were two factors that caused us to struggle. They had a nice four-man (Issac Gonzalez), who scored 20 points, and we had a tough time against him when Jeremy was out."

Mike Farrell had 14 points and Tim Baker tallied 13 for OCU.

Consolation second round

Ohio Christian 70,

Kentucky Christian 66

Ohio Christian defeated Mid-East Regional rival Kentucky Christian for the third time in four meetings 70-66.

Hays tallied 19 points and Cumberland made 6 of 9 shots to score 18.

"Tirrell started to get over the flu there and, and we also had some nice production from Jeremy," Christopher said. "We led throughout the game and went ahead by 10 to 12 points a couple of times before it got closer at the end."

Fifth-place final

Ohio Christian 84,

North Central 71

Leading by two points at halftime, OCU opened up on offense in the second half to beat third-seeded North Central 84-71.

Cumberland had 18 points, Farrell 17 and Hays 16.

"We hit some key shots there in the second half to get going," Christopher said.