POINT LOOKOUT, Mo.- Ferdinand Morales-Soto made 1-of-2 free throws after pulling down an offensive rebound with 28 seconds left to lead Saint Francis back to the championship game, defeating College of the Ozarks (Mo.) 67-64 in the first semifinal at the 2011 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship. Saint Francis becomes the first team to return to the championship game since Bethel (Ind.) in 1999. The 2011 event is being held at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks (Mo.).
After Soto's free throw, College of the Ozarks came down and with the clock winding down, senior Jared Howerton missed a three-pointer but teammate Darian Kelly picked up the rebound and scored from five feet, only to have it waved off after stepping out of bounds prior to the shot. Ozarks fouled Soto before any time expired on the ensuing inbounds play but this time the senior made both free throws and the Bobcats could not get a shot off in the final 2.4 seconds.
Saint Francis shot just 39% from the field, 35% from beyond the arc (6/17) but grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, many coming at the most opportune time. Qadr Owens led all scorers with 20 points, 16 coming in the first half, while both Morales-Soto (15) and DeJovaun Sawyer-Davis (17) carried the scoring load in the second half, scoring 12 and 13 points in the final 20 minutes. Senior Matt Edmonds added eight points and scored his 1,000th career point in the first half.
Ozarks scored the opening basket but Saint Francis netted the next seven points and was in control for the rest of the half. Owens scored 11 of the next 12 points for the Cougars as they mounted their biggest lead, holding Ozarks without a field goal for over five minutes. The Bobcats, however, would rally and after a Weston Wiebe lay-in, cut it six and trailed by eight at the half, 33-25.
With Saint Francis still leading by five, Ozarks went on a 10-0 run, capped off by a lay-in by Spencer Blair, and took its first lead since the opening basket. The Cougars answered with their own 10-0 run and after two free throws by Sawyer-Davis, led by seven once again, 53-46, with 7:15 left to play. An Ethan Hussey three-pointer put USF up five (64-59) but Ozarks put forth one last comeback, and after a fall-away three-pointer by Mike Wiebe with one minute left, the score was tied at 64. The defending champions, however, were not to be denied as Morales-Soto rebounded a Sawyer-Davis miss and made the game-winning free throw.
Ozarks shot 42% for the game, including 48% in the second half. Mike Wiebe led the Bobcats with 16 points, 13 coming in the second half. Spencer Blair added 12 points off the bench, making a couple of big three-pointers, while both Darian Kelly and Weston Wiebe netted eight points. This was the first loss for Ozarks in the semifinals (3-1) and they end the season with a 24-12 record.
#13 Saint Francis (28-9) returns to the championship game once again and will face #3 Cornerstone (Mich) tonight, March15, at 9:00 p.m. (CDT). For more information about the National Championship, click here http://naia.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl-div2/spec-rel/082310aaa.html.