COSTA MESA, Calif. – No. 9 Vanguard won its first-ever Golden State Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament trophy on Tuesday evening in The Pit to sweep both the regular season and tournament titles for 2013-14. The Pride, led by Preston Wynne (SR, Wellpinit, WA)'s 24-point, 5-assist performance, defeated No. 23 Hope International (22-10) 90-80 in the championship game.
The Lions (27-6) are one win away from tying the all-time best mark for wins in a season (28), set by the 1988-89 men's hoops squad.
Keith Mason (JR, Carson, CA) won the tip-off for VU, a feat which promptly gave the Royals a taste of Wynnesanity, as one of The Spokane Tribe of Indian's finest, Wynne, sank the first bucket of the game.
Hope opened with a well-designed play for a lob dunk at 19:32, but Chris Gorman (JR, Oceanside, CA) roared back with seven points in a four minute span to put The Pride out front 11-6.
Another smash put HIU within three points and a fast break lay-up on Hope's next possession cut the margin to one at 11-10.
Wynne found classmate Noel Larkins (SR, Placentia, CA) on the skip next, where Larkins stepped back and confidently hit the Lions' second 3-pointer of the contest to put VU up 16-10 at the 13:43 mark.
Mason, who ranks 12th in the NAIA in offensive rebounds per game, put in work on the glass to give the Lions a double-digit lead, grabbing his own miss and finishing the and-one to put VU up 22-12 at the mid-way mark.
Wynne made it 12 on the ensuing trip down the floor, and Larkins extended it to 14 with an impressive off-balance midrange jumper at 9:26.
With The Pride holding a nine-point (30-21) edge at the five minute mark, DeAngelo Jones (JR, Cheney, WA) made an excellent hustle play on defense, laying his body out in a one-on-one race to chase down a wayward ball. The result was an extra possession for the Blue and Gold and a huge shift in momentum, as the Vanguard cheering section, the Roarers, lost themselves with excitement.
Two minutes later, however, HIU had its crowd meowing as it cut the margin to 32-28 following a basket from Garrett Neilan in the paint.
Vanguard looked as though it would take a 37-30 lead into the locker room, but the Royals' Matt Green sank a trey with 39 seconds remaining to shrink the deficit to four (37-33).
Green led all players with 16 points at the break.
Wynne scored 10 for VU and dished four of the Blue and Gold's five assists in the first half.
The Royals out-boarded the Lions 22-13 in the period and shot 52 percent from the floor, compared to the Lions' 44 percent.
Gorman and Selle Hann (JR, Dakar, Senegal) combined for the first four points of the second but Hope matched buckets with the Lions to keep the spread at five points early.
VU built its lead to seven but a defensive slip gave HIU a huge opening at 15:46 as Green got a look and sank from downtown.
Larkins repaid the favor on the following trip with a 3-pointer of his own, but HIU continued to fight and came within a single basket (49-47) at 14:10 after a lay-up from Tuff Barnes.
Wynne and Green traded back-to-back-to-back makes from behind the arc between 12:08 and 11:13 but Wynnecredible capped the run with another jumper to force an HIU timeout as the Lions secured a 59-52 edge with 10:00 to play in the championship.
A bizarre Royals' turnover on a baseline inbounds pass at 8:19 turned into gold for the Lions, as Gorman pulled from deep in his defender's face to pocket a 10-point (65-55) lead for Vanguard.
Jones was fouled on a 3-point try and converted two free throws at 5:16, which Mason shadowed in the ensuing two minutes with a pair of athletic slash and finishes to put VU out front by 14 (76-62).
Down the stretch, Hope threw on an aggressive full court press which saw the Royals post an 8-2 run to come within eight (82-74), but HIU made the mistake of putting the NAIA's leading free throw shooter, Wynne, on the line where he swished two for the Blue and Gold.
From there, the Lions held on, and when the clock ran out, the Roarers ran out of their seats to celebrate the historic victory.
Mason recorded a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double in the affair. He also compiled two blocks in the contest.
Gorman and Larkins scored 17 and 12, respectively, while Jones and Zach Allmon (FR, San Luis Obispo, CA) registered eight apiece for The Pride.
Vanguard claimed an automatic bid to the 2014 Buffalo Funds NAIA Men's Basketball Tournament in Kansas City (March 19-24) with the win.