|Bailey leads Oklahoma City over Mountain State 75-72 for second straight title|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 25 March 2008 17:46|
Oklahoma City (31-7) struggled early, then poured it on the second half, using a stout defense and just enough offense to win its record sixth NAIA title.
The Stars were the first NAIA team to reach three straight finals since Kentucky State did it in 1970-72, then became its first repeat champions since Life (Ga.) University in 1999-2000.
Willie Irick had 22 points and Kameron Gray, last year's NAIA tournament MVP, added 20 and took home another MVP award for Oklahoma City, which closed out the season with 15 straight wins.
Mountain State (34-3) was effective in slowing the up-tempo Stars, turning the game into a half-court shoving match.
It didn't seem to bother Oklahoma City, which used consecutive 3-pointers by Gray and Richard Jackson to take a 29-21 halftime lead, then gradually built it from there, leading by as much as 16.
Mountain State, from Beckley, W. Va., at least made it interesting in the closing seconds, with Adron Marshall hitting a 3-pointer from the corner, then James Spencer stealing the inbounds pass to make it 75-72 with 1.7 seconds left. Oklahoma City closed it out by getting the ball into Irick's hands on the sideline.
Jason McGriff led the Cougars with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Jarvis Jackson added 15 points.
While the NCAA tournament is one of the biggest sporting events of the year, the NAIA tournament operates in the shadows of March Madness, getting little attention and even less financial support.
Its players aren't quite as big and a smidgen less athletic than most Division I guys, and the crowds are much smaller; the championship game drew 3,876 compared to the 50,000 at some NCAA regional venues.
The teams aren't nearly as familiar, either, with names like Trevecca Nazarene and Azusa Pacific, coming from small towns like Plainview, Texas and Chickasha, Okla.
In other ways, the NAIA isn't all that different than its big brother.
The depth of talent isn't the same as the larger schools, but there's still some there; all but a handful of the top teams have at least one NCAA Division I transfer.
McGriff is an athletic, 6-foot-9 forward with an array post moves and a good outside shot. He finished 7-of-13 in his final college game. Spencer, a transfer from Wyoming, scored 11 of his points after halftime.
Bailey, a former Big East all-rookie team member from Rutgers, had trouble finding his shot - 4-for-12 - but continued battling inside, using his strength to bull through the Cougars.
The players also play with the same kind of passion, diving for loose balls, fighting through screens. Once the game was over, the emotion was the same, with Oklahoma City's players jumping for joy at the final buzzer, and the Cougars covering their heads with towels sitting glumly on the bench.