Men's Basketball Beat Rival KCU to Win Regional Championships

This stepping stone was a big relief for the Ohio Christian University men's basketball team. The Trailblazers used their defense to force 25 turnovers and beat Kentucky Christian University 67-57 on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. to win their first National Christian College Athletic Association Division II championship in 28 seasons.

"This was a big monkey off our backs," Ohio Christian coach Curtis Christopher said. "We've been competing hard over the last couple of seasons and taking stepping stones, but we couldn't win a regional title.

"Trust me; there was a lot of celebration for this accomplishment by our team. It's nice to have a banner of our own."

The Trailblazers (27-6) beat their archrival for the second time in three matchups this season to clinch an automatic invitation to the NCCAA's Div. II national tournament. Fifth-seeded Ohio Christian is slated to travel to Springfield, Mo. a week from Tuesday to face Lancaster Bible College in a first round game at 4 p.m.

"I don't like to go backwards," Christopher said. "We were an at-large team last year and finished in fifth-place. Anything less would be a disappointment."

Known more for their hot shooting and fast play, the Trailblazers took a different route to make school history. Ohio Christian had its lowest scoring output at halftime in three seasons against Kentucky Christian, trailing 22-20. The Trailblazers were still in the game thanks to their defense, which forced 15 steals in the Mid-east region championship game. Christopher made a personnel change against Kentucky Christian big man Casey Jones, who scored 28 points in each of the first two meetings between the teams.

"We went to a smaller lineup and had our point guard, Rickshontae Spell, guard him and front him a lot," Christopher said. "Jones only scored 12 points, and that forced some of their other players to have to try and step up to score."

The Trailblazers went ahead by eight points with 10 minutes remaining and used a strong game from guard Tim Baker, who scored 21 points and hit 15 of 18 free throws - many down the stretch - to preserve the lead.

"We finally decided to attack the basket and Tim took the ball down the lane to get to the line and really help us," Christopher said.

Jeremy Hays added a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds.

The Trailblazers opened the tournament on Friday with a 86-59 win over Freewill Baptist Bible College.

"We started to press with about 10 minutes to go in the first half and that broke it open," Christopher said.

Stefan Vasiloff led Ohio Christian with 18 points. Baker contributed 14 points and Cornelius Oliver added 12 points. Unlike the Kentucky Christian game, the Trailblazers were hot from the field, hitting 34 of 66 shots (52 percent) and 10 of 22 shots (46 percent) from behind three-point line.