SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Mount Vernon Nazarene men’s basketball saw a historic season come to a close on Friday night, as the Cougars fell to No. 4 Morningside (Iowa) 75-69 in the Round of 16 at the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament.
MVNU got off to a hot start, with three pointers from Jevon Knox (SO/Marysville, OH) and Jordi Mas (SR/Barcelona, Spain) opening up an early 8-4 lead. Knox nailed another three after a Tyler Borchers free throw to make the lead 11-5; Zach Imig answered with a lay-up to cut the lead to four, and Borchers knocked down two more free throws to make the lead 11-9. Austin Jones (JR/Cincinnati, OH) was hit with his second foul on the play, putting Nazarene a man down early.
Morningside rallied to tie the game up at 13-13, but an Alex Johnson (SO/Cincinnati, OH) three gave the Cougars the lead right back. Borchers continued to work in the paint, scoring a bucket to cut the lead to one, but Morningside starter Imig was hit with his second foul on the next possession, and Isaac White (JR/Ashland, OH) hit his first three of the game to make the lead two possessions again. Both Tyler and Alex Borchers got back-to-back baskets for Morningside to tie the game again, but a Knox jumper from the elbow restored MVNU’s lead at 21-19 midway through the first half.
The even affair continued, as Pierce Almond and Mas traded buckets. Mas then got an open look underneath, sealing Tyler Borchers and hitting an easy lay-in to make the score 25-21, forcing a Morningside timeout. Matt Hahn hit a free throw out of the timeout, but Isaac White would make the lead 27-22 with a jumper from the right corner, and MVNU would get a stop on a jump ball. White would make the stop count, knocking down a three to make the score 30-22.
Matt Hahn scored five straight points to pull Morningside within three, but Jeremiah Roberts (SR/Toledo, OH) responded with a lay-up. Tyler Borchers and Alex Borchers again combined for back-to-back baskets, which forced a Mount Vernon timeout with the Cougars up 32-31. Alex Johnson hit a hook shot out of the timeout to get the lead to three again, but the older Borchers again scored, this time a jumper from the top of the lane. Roberts responded with a three from the right wing on the next possession to make the lead 37-33, but Borchers answered again with a jumper, making the lead 37-35 with 1:55 to go in the half.
Brody Eggers hit two free throws out of a review to tie the game up again, but Jacob Paul (JR/Canton, OH) would get in on the scoring, hitting a three from the right corner to give the Cougars the lead again. Egger knocked down a jumper off the glass, the final score of the half as MVNU held a 40-39 advantage at the break.
Zach Imig opened the second half with a jumper to give Morningside the lead at 41-40, but Jacob Paul responded with a straight-away three on the next possession to give MVNU the lead right back. Alex Borchers tied the game up again, and Imig put one up over Vipperman to put the Mustangs up two. Alex Borchers then got an open three, putting the Mustangs up 48-43 after the first four minutes of the second half.
Vipperman stopped the run with a lay-in through contact, and Mas connected on the other end in transition to cut the lead to 48-47 after getting a block on the defensive end. Trey Brown got a bucket in response after some fruitless possessions for both teams, and Imig hit minutes later to make the lead 52-47. Brown hit another shot in the paint to make the lead seven, but a pair of Knox free throws prevented the lead from getting out of hand, cutting the lead to 54-49.
Vipperman knocked down a three after a stop to slash the Morningside lead to 54-52, but Borchers responded, spinning in the post for two. Jeremiah Roberts then hit again off an offensive rebound, cutting the lead to two again, but once again it was Borchers for Morningside, hitting over stout defense. Jones was then fouled and hit two bonus free throws to cut the lead to 58-56, and after Mount Vernon got a stop, Vipperman tied the game up again with a hook shot.
Morningside regained the lead immediately as Hahn hit a lay-up through a foul, but he missed the free throw. Alex Borchers then gave away a foul on a rebound, allowing Jacob Paul to go to the free throw line, where he buried both bonus shots to tie the game again. Another foul on a rebound, this one by Egger, sent Alex Johnson to the free throw line, where he hit one of two bonus shots to put MVNU back up 61-60. Alex Borchers then traveled, giving MVNU back the ball with 5:47 to go.
After empty possessions for both teams, MVNU called a timeout with 4:27 to go. Egger would hit a three after a turnover to put the Mustangs back up 63-61, but Vipperman answered to tie the score back up at 63-63. Tyler Borchers would put Morningside back up 66-63 with a shot through a foul, hitting the free throw; MVNU called timeout with 2:25 to go on the next possession. Brody Eggers hit a pair of free throws to make the lead 68-63, and the Mustangs locked down late to maintain the lead. Free throws down the stretch would seal it for Morningside, as the Mustangs knocked off Mount Vernon Nazarene 75-69 in the NAIA Round of 16.
MVNU falls to 27-8 on the season, but still finishes the year tied for the most wins in a season in program history. Morningside improved to 30-3 on the year and advanced to the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament Quarterfinals.
Jevon Knox (MVNU) – 18 points
Brett Vipperman (SR/Ashland, OH) (MVNU) – 11 points
Tyler Borchers (Morningside) – 26 points
Brody Egger (Morningside) – 13 points
Zach Imig (Morningside) – 13 points
Coach Ronai’s Thoughts
“What a ride. I’m really proud of our guys and their consistent fight. Morningside was a Quarterfinals team last season with every starter back from that team. They’re one of the best in the country and our guys showed that they belong on this big stage.
“I can’t thank the seniors enough for their commitment to this program. Jordi, Jeremiah and Brett mean so much to me and my family. They ahve been big brothers to my son Kyler and daughter Kamryn, and that means the world to me. They have helped build a culture and set the bar high for teams to come. It’s been an incredible journey with this group and I’m really sad we don’t get to play another game together. Thank you to Cougar Nation for all of your support. It means so much to us all. We’ll see you in Ariel Arena next season.”
A Historic Season
2018-19 was a year where history was made for MVNU. The Cougars returned to the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament for the first time since 2008-09, and won a tournament game for the first time since 2007. MVNU hosted a Crossroads League Conference Tournament game for the first time after a fourth-place finish, and reached the Crossroads League Tournament Championship game for the first time. MVNU matched a program record with 27 wins, and won a team record four overtime games, playing in six.