HUTCHINSON, KS (WFIE) - The Vincennes University men’s basketball team flexed some muscle and reminded everyone of its status as a national powerhouse on Saturday.The Trailblazers handled Ranger 87-77 to win the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The Blazers won their fourth national championship and first since 1972.
In their first national title game appearance since 1986, VU jumped out to a 23-5 start and the Trailblazers showed off their school colors of blue and gold on national television. In the process, VU Men’s Basketball Coach Todd Franklin cemented his place in the history of one of the nation’s top programs.“
Since ‘72, there have been a lot of great players that have played at Vincennes,” Franklin said. “We know all those people are incredibly proud and happy and no longer have to listen to about we can’t get it done.”
After the Trailblazers were awarded the championship trophy and cut down the nets, Franklin received the Coach of the Tournament award and freshman Kevin Osawe was presented with the William B. French Most Valuable Player Award. Osawe scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the championship game.
Sophomores Keith Clemons and Kevin Kangu were among 12 players presented with All-Tournament medals.Clemons collected 17 points and seven assists against Ranger. Kangu added 14 points and six assists. Sophomore Lony Francis Jr. scored 10 points before fouling out with 6 minutes 47 seconds left.
The Trailblazers started out on fire in a game that was broadcast on CBS Sports Network. They were ahead 34-13 midway through the first half. They led by as many as 22 points before taking a 50-34 lead into the locker room at halftime.“
We came out, played well, and hit shots,” said Franklin, who has coached the Trailblazers for nine seasons.Ranger made it a game in the second half. The Rangers’ Keyshaad Dixon hit a 3-pointer that cut VU’s lead to 63-60 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining.“
The only time they were in the game was the last six or seven minutes,” Franklin said. “We didn’t have our inside game because our inside game was on the sideline sitting by me from the middle 20 minutes of the game. Great effort by Ranger, but if we had had our inside game on the court I don’t think they would have got back on top of us. We had to fight it off.”
At the 6:19 mark, the Trailblazers were ahead 65-64, but Franklin wasn’t worried. He recognized his team was poised to close out the victory and win the national championship.“
You could see that the script flipped,” Franklin said. “It was we’re not fighting off any more. We are in closure mode. I felt pretty good about it once you could see it on the floor that we were in closure mode. We did it this whole tournament. Moberly pushed up on us. Early in the second half, South Plains pushed up on us. Odessa pushed up on us in the second half.“
You saw Craig Porter click in, take it to the basket and drop it off because we needed somebody do that. Then I had George (Dixon) in there asking for the ball. Osawe wanted the ball. At that moment, I thought we are going to be all right.”
Clemons buried a 3-pointer to put VU ahead 77-72 with 3:55 to play. In that last 3:55, the Trailblazers closed the game on a 13-5 run.
Then the celebrating began. The players put on shirts with “National Champions” printed on them. They cut down the nets, posed for photographs, signed autographs and kissed the championship trophy.“
Playing with this team has been the best two years of my life,” Dixon said. “To be able to win this it means everything. Not to only me, but to the people back at home, to coach (Franklin) and the previous players that played here. We are all a huge family.”
The Trailblazers are now four-time national champions. They won national titles in 1965, 1970, 1972 and 2019.
VU holds the record for most national championship appearance with 34. They also hold the record for most consecutive tournament appearances in the modern era. This season was their seventh straight trip to the national tournament.The Trailblazers finish the season with a 34-2 overall record.
VU’s players and coaches will be welcomed home on Sunday with a celebration at the P.E. Complex around 6 p.m. Check www.vinu.edu/victory or Blazer 91.1 FM for last-minute details.