KANSAS CITY – A determined Vanguard squad boarded an elusive ship, destination 2014 title game, on Monday evening as it cruised past Saint Gregory's 108-88 to earn one of two tickets to the Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship.
Preston Wynne (SR/Wellpinit, WA) might as well have been the ship's captain, as he steered the Lions to victory with a career-high 42 points on 14-for-19 (73.6 percent) shooting. He took the wind out of Saint Gregory's sails, sinking 6-of-9 attempts from 3-point range in the contest.
"Tonight was a great team performance," Wynne said. "I think this was our best team shooting percentage game that we had all year. Well, at least it felt like it. It just feels great to know that whether we win or lose, my last game as a Lion will be in the championship game with my brothers. I have to say thank you to all of the faculty and the students for the support and for coming together to watch the game in The Pit. That was so big time."
Through four games at the national championship, the senior guard is averaging 28.3 points per game – nine points above his season average entering the event. Wynne also tied for a team-high with four assists, while grabbing four rebounds in the affair. The scoring effort was the most since a 43-point performance by PJ Meyers of Life (Ga.) in 2012.
"He's really special," Soliday said when asked about Wynne. "He can really score in every way and with his range, he really makes it difficult for other teams to guard him. Our guys are probably the only ones who weren't surprised by some of the shots he made tonight."
Seventeen of the Lions' first 25 points went to the one and only Wynnesanity as Vanguard built a 25-16 lead by the 12:28 mark. He sank two from behind the arc in the span, while Noel Larkins (SR/Placentia, CA) and Chris Gorman (JR/Oceanside, CA) also hit from deep to propel The Pride.
With just under ten to go in the first, Wynne struck again, nailing his third 3-pointer of the period to put VU up five (31-26).
Gorman struck next on the break to extend the margin further and Zach Allmon (FR/San Luis Obispo, CA) hit a pair from the charity stripe two minutes later to make it 38-29.
Saint Gregory's had no solution for Wynne, who scored his 22nd point at 6:00 before coming out of the game for a short rest.
Allmon picked up the slack, dunking on the ensuing trip down the floor and DeAngelo Jones (JR/Cheney, WA) gave the Lions a 9-point, 46-37, lead after he made VU's sixth bucket from downtown at 2:42.
The seventh came not long after, as Wynne re-entered the competition and got a look, which he drained for his 25th point of the half.
Wynne went 9-for-13 before the break to come within six points of his career-high (33) in one half of play. Gorman and Jones added eight and seven, respectively, while Allmon chipped in six.
The Lions shot 58.6 percent (18-31) in the period compared to Saint Gregory's 47 percent (16-34), but through 20 minutes, VU was out-rebounded by the Cavaliers 21-13.
Swing Chuang (SR/Hacienda Heights) scored the Blue and Gold's first bucket of the second, an and-one lay-up to put VU up 12.
Gorman made it 15 (59-47) with another from downtown and didn't hesitate to pull and sink again at 16:35 to notch his 14th point of the evening.
Larkins followed suit to tally the Lions' 10th 3-pointer at 15:50 and a minute later Wynne picked up the 11th, his fifth trey and 30th point, to put The Pride out front 72-55.
Jones must have felt a left out of the action, so he launched the 12th and connected to tab the Lions' 75th point of the game.
Saint Gregory's rallied to come within 10 (78-68) with just under nine minutes remaining, but Wynne answered with a mid-range jumper off of the glass on the next possession to pad the Lions' 12 –point advantage.
The Wynnesanity broke his career scoring high at the 7 minute mark with 3-pointer number six and then took one to the hole, finishing and drawing a foul on the ensuing trip to drop three more the hard way as he picked up his 38th point for Vanguard.
The Cavaliers' Jaron Viera responded with his fourth 3-pointer to cut the gap to seven-points (88-81) at 5:37, but Wynne's 40th point was not far behind, as VU's lights out gamer, did everything in his power to keep the Blue and Gold's edge in double-digits down the stretch.
From there, the Lions outscored the Cavaliers, 18-7, over the course of the final four minutes to earn the 20-point victory.
As a team,Vanguard ended the game shooting 59.3 percent (35-of-59), including a tournament-high 14 3-pointers.
Joining Wynne in double-digits was Chris Gorman with 22 points and Jones with 17 points. The trio of Wynne, Gorman and Jones ended the game a combined 12-for-20 (60.0 percent) from 3-point range.
The Lions, who boast the most wins ever for a VU men's basketball team at 31-6, have won eight-straight games. They are the first team in the history of the program to advance past the second round of the tournament.
"Our guys are happy to be here, but I think they're also happy to be playing one more game together," head coach Rhett Soliday said. "We're just going to let it rip and see what happens. We know there will be some uncharacteristic mistakes, kind of like there were tonight, but once the guys settle down, they'll adjust."
Saint Gregory's season ends with the loss. The Cavaliers went 24-10 on the year.
The Lions will play Emmanuel (Ga.) at 5:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday for the national title. The game will air nationally on ESPN3. Click here for more information to access to ESPN3.
*Parts of this release taken from naia.org