The Lancaster Bible men's basketball team won the program's third-ever NCCAA East Region Championship on Tuesday night as the Chargers defeated Valley Forge Christian, 72-48 in convincing fashion at Horst Athletic Center. The win marks the first East Region title for the Chargers since the 2010-11 season.
After a slow start for both teams, the Chargers used a 14-3 run over a five-minute span midway through the first half to turn a 4-3 deficit into an 18-6 lead with 10:20 to play. The Patriots (14-12) trimmed the deficit to single-digits on a 3-pointer by Demitrius Muse with 5:56 to play, but the Chargers closed the half on an 11-4 run to head into halftime with a 36-20 advantage. Valley Forge Christian shot just 19.2 percent (5-of-26) in the first half as nearly every shot they took was contested and the turned the ball over 10 times.
While both teams shot better in the second half, they essentially traded baskets and Lancaster Bible maintained its double-digit lead. After Valley Forge Christian closed the gap to 14 on a layup by Jean LeBlanc with 15:32 to play, Lancaster Bible hit back-to-back 3-pointers and opened the lead to 20 points with 14:17 to play.
The score was never closer than 14 the rest of the way and Dondre Perry's dunk with 4:37 to play made it 65-41 Chargers and the celebration was on.
"That's probably the best defensive game we've played all season," Lancaster Bible Head Coach Marshall Tague said. "It was just a really good effort, both individually and as a team. To hold Lance Harris and Kevin Mack (The Patriots best players) to 4-of-26 shooting is impressive. The guys got after it tonight and it showed."
Juniors Naheer Mirza and Trevor Marsh, as well as sophomore CJ Dunston, each had 11 points to pace the Chargers, while junior Albert Suniga had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Perry chipped in with seven points and 11 boards, while Corey Leonard added nine points off the bench for Lancaster Bible.
The win comes just two days after the Chargers lost in heartbreaking fashion to Morrisville State in the North Eastern Athletic Conference Final. The team and coaches have not been shy about the fact of how much the loss hurt, but Tague said the team talked about it and though the wound is still fresh, they are moving on.
"To be honest, we talked about our feelings," Tague said. "There is no reason to hold those things in. The loss hurt, it still hurts and probably will for a while, but we have to move on as men and as basketball players. We've all made a choice to move on and use it as a learning experience."
Both Lancaster Bible and Valley Forge Christian started very cold from the field, but Tague said the turning point came when he put in one of the team's defensive stars.
"I thought Jordan Mellinger changed things for us," Tague said. "He disrupted Valley's ability to move the ball and we were able to get some easier baskets and the guys on our team really responded to his effort."
The win is the 20th of the season for the Chargers which sets a new program record. The previous record of 19 was set during the 2000-01 season.
"It's quite an accomplishment," Tague said. "Twenty is a big number when you're only playing 30 or so games. It really speaks to what we have been able to do all season long."
In three trips to the NCCAA National Tournament, Lancaster Bible is 1-5 with its lone win coming in the 2011 tournament when they defeated Portland Bible, 65-48. The 3-seed is the highest seed the Chargers have ever had in the tournament and when asked about the team's chances, Tague was cautiously optimistic.
"Eight of the 10 teams at the tournament are region champions and the other two were good enough to earn at-large bids, so there are no bad teams out there," Tague said. "That being said, the guys are piecing a few of the things we know together about those teams and starting to believe they can do something special out there."
The Chargers (20-8) will open up play against sixth seeded Grace University (Neb.). Tip-off is set for Thursday, March 13 at 5:30 p.m.
Coverage of the tournament, including links to live video will be posted on the Charger website in the coming days.