It was a lifetime ago when Vincennes University burst onto the junior college basketball scene, winning three national titles in seven years.
The Trailblazers have stayed among the elite in the country, but with the last title coming in 1972, the elephant in the room was when or if VU was going to be a champion again.
The nearly 50-year wait ended Saturday afternoon at Hutchinson, Kan. Tournament MVP Kevin Osawe poured in 22 points with 10 rebounds, and the Blazers answered every challenge by Ranger (Texas) to capture their fourth NJCAA Championship, 87-77.
Third-seeded VU (34-2), which tied the school record for wins, defeated four teams in four days in Kansas, leading for nearly all of the 160 minutes. The eighth-seeded Rangers (31-4), coached by former Kentucky mentor Billy Gillispie, only had one lead at 2-0 in the title game televised nationally for the first time by the CBS Sports Network.
VU’s Todd Franklin, named the Tournament Coach of the Year, has led the Blazers to Hutch a school-best seven consecutive years before cashing in Saturday by winning the trophy.
“We played as tough a route as we could possibly play. It was four straight days, had to play the night games, had to turn around from a late game last night into this afternoon. We had to take down the vaunted west Texas teams (Odessa, South Plains and Ranger) three times in a row after taking out maybe the most dominant player (Alonzo Verge and Moberly Area, Mo.) in the first game,” Franklin said. “I don’t think anybody could say we didn’t earn it.
“These guys we have are tremendously tough. None of these guys were highly-rated coming out of high school. They made themselves into the players they are and into the kind of team to come out here and win a national championship.”
Keith Clemons (17 points, seven assists) and reserve Kevin Kangu (14 points) were also named to the 13-player, All-Tournament Team. Osawe, the team’s fourth-leading scorer on the season at 11.1 per game, matched his career-high in points for the second consecutive day in earning the MVP award.
“Kevin was absolutely tremendous. You hope for a freshman to play like that,” Franklin said. “Here’s a kid who
See Champions/Page B2
was a redshirt, had a broken foot and really didn’t play for a year and a half. But Kevin learned, became more mature, did things right, and it all came together for him this week.”
It got tight for VU, despite building a pair of 22-point leads in the opening half.
Ranger, trailing 50-34 at halftime, closed the gap to one possession four times in the second half and had momentum. Each time VU responded and never allowed the Rangers to have the ball with a chance to get the lead.
It was 63-60 when Lony Francis scored, 65-64 when George Dixon converted a three-point play, 72-70 when Craig Porter tallied, and 74-72 when Clemons netted a 3-pointer with 3:50 remaining. Dixon followed with a rebound bucket to extend the lead to 79-72 with 2:20 showing.
Ranger got it to five on three occasions, but never any closer. VU hit 6-of-8 free throws in the last 1:06 to close it out. With players celebrating the final seconds, Franklin and assistant coaches Brian Davis, Willie Wiley and Isaac McClure hugged as the horn sounded.
The Blazers almost couldn’t have scripted a better first half, shooting 65 percent that included 8-of-10 from 3-point range.
After a game-opening turnover, VU scored on its next 11 possessions with Dixon’s free throw giving the Blazers a 24-7 bulge. Osawe led the game-opening explosion, with 10 points in the first five minutes.
Osawe’s third 3-pointer of the half expanded the Blazers lead to 39-17 with seven minutes still to go before intermission. VU hit 16 of its first 21 shots.
A Kangu trifecta made it 43-21 with still over five minutes on the clock, but the Blazers’ offense cooled from there. Ranger found some footing to get the deficit to 16 by halftime.
The Rangers opened the second half with six consecutive points to get within 10. Five minutes later, they concluded a nine-point burst to close the gap to 58-53.
The Blazers’ foul trouble fed into Ranger’s comeback. Francis and Porter fouled out, and Dixon ended with four personals. All three starters rested more than normal due to their foul difficulties.
“All of our bigs were sitting by me all the time and it changed the game. Ranger got physical, got up in us and the whistle didn’t blow very often when they did,” Franklin said. “So we handled that adversity. We got rocked back a little bit, but then like we have every time out here this week, down the stretch we were the better team. We earned it.”
Jonathan Jackson came off the bench to score 21 for Ranger, but was whistled for his fourth foul with 10:51 to go and wasn’t a factor down the stretch before fouling out. Bench-mate Coryon Mason added 16 points.
“This group is a definition of a team,” Franklin said of his Blazers. “All of them contributed, it was everybody. We had different guys do different things all week. All of them can feel a part of this forever.”
VINCENNES 87, RANGER 77
NJCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Jones (f) 1-1 0-0 2, Ngalamulume (c) 0-0 0-0 0, English (g) 4-6 5-5 13, Au (g) 4-11 1-4 12, Dixon (g) 3-6 0-0 7, Jackson 6-10 9-10 21, Mason 5-8 6-8 16, Harvey 0-0 0-0 0, Bell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals:
Osawe (f) 8-13 2-2 22, Dixon (f) 3-5 2-3 8, Francis (c) 5-7 0-0 10, Clemons (g) 5-13 2-4 17, Porter (g) 2-4 3-8 7, Kangu 5-9 2-2 14, Sandage 2-3 1-2 7, Lyons 1-4 0-2 2, Mekkam 0-1 0-0 0. Totals:
SCORE BY HALVES
Ranger |34-43 — 77
Vincennes |50-37 — 87
3-pointers: Ranger 4-11 (Au 3-5, Dixon 1-4, Mason 0-1, Asberry 0-1, VU 10-16 (Osawe 4-5, Sandage 2-3, Clemons 2-4, Kangu 2-4). Rebounds: Ranger 26 (English, Au 7), VU 33 (Osawe 10). Turnovers: Ranger 12, VU 12. Fouls: Ranger 23, VU 21. Fouled out: Jackson, Francis.
2019 NJCAA All-Tournament Team
MVP - Kevin Osawe, VU
Keith Clemons, VU
Kevin Kangu, VU
Nick Stampley, Eastern Florida State
Parker Dortch, Kaskaskia
Torrey Patton, Indian Hills
Alonzo Verge, Moberly Area
Javion Hamlet, Northwest Florida State
Dimon Carrigan, Odessa
Gaige Prim, South Plains
Tyson Jolly, Trinity Valley
Jaren English, Ranger
Jonathan Jackson, Ranger