Byrd II has final word in KCAC finals

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
Bethel junior Clifford Byrd II scored 16 points, including a pair of free throws with .9 seconds remaining, to lead the Threshers to a 73-72 win over Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Bethel junior Jaylon Scott had 11 rebounds Monday, setting a new school record for career rebounds in a win over Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Bethel junior Tavaughn Flowers takes a jump shot during play in the KCAC postseason tournament finals at Hartman Arena. Bethel won the tournament title for the first time in school history.
Bethel freshman Nick Bonner scored a career-high 11 points in a 73-72 win Monday against Oklahoma Wesleyan. Bethel topped the No. 20 Eagles three times this season.
Bethel junior Bryant Mocaby defends a shot by Dylan Phillip, of Oklahoma Wesleyan, during the championship game of the KCAC postseason tournament.
Bethel junior Clifford Byrd II accepts the KCAC tournament championship plaque after a 73-72 win over Oklahoma Wesleyan.

PARK CITY — The Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference doesn’t use video replay much during the regular season, but it saved the No. 18 (NAIA) Bethel College men’s  basketball team Monday in a 73-72 win over No. 20 Oklahoma Wesleyan in the KCAC postseason tournament finals.

With Bethel leading by two, the Threshers forced a turnover under the OWU basket, but promptly turned the ball back over. With five seconds remaining, Brooks Haddock hit a shot. The officials then stopped the game to review if it was a 2- or 3-pointer.

The refs ruled a 3-pointer, but the time it took the render the decision allowed Bethel to set up a play despite no remaining time outs.

Clifford Byrd II was fouled on the play with .9 second to play, hitting both free throws and giving the Threshers their first-ever tournament championship. The Threshers previously won the regular-season title and clinched a berth to the NAIA National Tournament.

“I feel like I was in practice,” Byrd II said of the winning free throws. “That’s what I was feeling the whole time, these are just like the free throws I take in practice. These are going in. I believed they were going in. The coach set the play. At first, he set one play, then switched it over, and that was a great call by him. Once he did that, my mindset was just going downhill — get the bucket or get the foul.”

Byrd II finished with 16 points.

“We struggled a little bit, but we knew what we were doing,” Byrd II said. “That’s the great thing about this team. We always keep fighting. We never give up. It’s hard to beat a good team, a ranked team, three times. They really wanted this game also.”

“I think our youth and inexperience showed up there down the stretch,” Bethel coach Jayson Artaz said. “But the thing I’m most proud of, and it was something we talked about at the beginning of the year and it was something we talked about a lot, is how you handle adversity. And boy did we have a lot of adversity in those last 30 to 45 seconds where we kept trying to give it to them. We still went down and made a play.

"We hadn’t shot free throws worth a darn all game, then Byrd goes down and buries two. I am so proud of him. Cliff Byrd works as hard as anybody around. He sticks around in the summer. He is in the gym all the time. To see someone like that, my kids love that guy. To see someone as good as him experience that success, I am just overjoyed. There’s nothing like it.”

Jaylon Scott scored 14 points with 11 rebounds.

“Actually in high school, I won a championship on a last-second shot,” Scott said. “It’s kind of crazy to do it in college as well. What a blessing.”

Scott now has 983 career rebounds, which breaks the school record. Scott also had six assists and three steals. It was his 16th double double of the season and 45th of his career.

“It’s a great honor,” Scott said of the rebounding record. “The rest of the team put in the work and trusts me, and that’s my job, that’s what I have to do, get the rebound. They do it every night, so I have to do it so we can win. That’s a great team on the other side. We knew it was going to be a great game. We didn’t execute toward the end, but Clifford Byrd stepped up and manned and MVP’d.”

Freshman Nick Bonner added a career-high 11 points for the 19-6 Threshers.

Oklahoma Wesleyan, 19-6, was led by Jason Lietzke with 15 points, Lense Ramey with 11 points and Haddock with 10. Valentin Van Putten had 15 rebounds.

Until the final minute of the first half, the biggest lead for either team in the first half was three points. Bethel made a 5-0 run in the last two minutes to lead 35-30 at the half.

Flowers extended the run 20 seconds into the second half with a 3-pointer. OWU replied with a 5-0 run of its own. The Eagles tied the game with 16:11 left in regulation on a Haddock 3-pointer.

Down 50-45, OWU made a 9-2 run, taking the lead on a Van Putten layup with 12:17 in regulation.

A Byrd II three-point play sparked a 10-0 Thresher run. The Eagles regained the lead with a 9-0 run.

Bethel tied the game 68-68 on a Byrd II shot, followed by an Adam Gouro layup with 2:21 remaining. Bethel missed a chance to extend the lead further.

Austin Polling hit one of two free throws for OWU with 1:06 to play. Bethel’s Tavaughn Flowers rebounded the miss and was fouled, hitting one of two free throws.

The two teams traded turnovers until the the 10.6-mark on the clock, setting up Haddock’s 3-pointer. After Byrd II’s free throws, the Eagles turned the ball over with .3 seconds remaining. 

“Thank God for replays,” Artaz said. “We were out of time outs in that situation. It allowed us to draw something up. Cliff is as fast as he can be in that situation. We tried to get the ball to him and get him all the way downhill to the rim, and he was there, able to draw contact and finish the play.”

Play in the NAIA National Tournament will be March 12 and 13 at regional sites, which include both Hartman Arena and the Garvey Center on the Friends University campus.

“Thursday night, seedings and match-ups come out,” Artaz said. “We’re going to celebrate tonight, enjoy it. Then we’re going to take a couple of days off. These guys need a break. We’ll get our batteries recharged and get ready for the national tournament.”

OKLAHOMA WESLEYAN (19-6) — Janson Lietzke 6-9 0-0 15, Kazden Ammons 0-0 0-0 0, Brooks Haddock 3-8 2-4 10, Brandon Bird 2-3 0-0 4, Taylen Miller 2-8 0-1 4, Dylan Phillip 2-14 1-2 6, Valentin Van Putten 3-8 0-0 7, Ke'von Boston 0-3 4-4 4, Kaleb Stokes 2-5 3-3 8, Lense Ramey 2-6 5-5 11, Austin Poling 1-3 1-2 3. TOTALS 23-67 16-21 72.

BETHEL (19-6) — Jaylon Scott 5-10 3-7 14, Clifford Byrd II 5-14 4-6 16, Tavaughn Flowers 2-7 3-4 8, Kevon Green 0-1 0-0 0, Adam Gouro 2-3 0-3 4, Harper Jonas 3-5 0-0 8, Bryant Mocaby 2-3 2-2 8, Nick Bonner 4-9 0-0 11, Jalyn Todd 2-2 0-0 4. TOTALS 25-54 12-22 73.

Okla.Wes.;30;42;—;72

Bethel;35;38;—;73

Total fouls — OW 16, BC 14. Technical fouls — none. Fouled out — none. 3-point shooting — OW 10-35 (Lietzke 3-6, Haddock 2-3, Bird 0-1, Miller 0-1, Phillip 1-11, Van Putten 1-3, Boston 0-2, Stokes 1-3, Ramey 2-5), BC 11-25 (Scott 1-2, Byrd II 2-6, Flowers 1-5, Jonas 2-3, Mocaby 2-2, Bonner 3-7). Rebounds — OW 44 (Van Putten 15), BC 38 (Scott 11). Assists — OW 13 (Miller 4), BC 13 (Scott 6). Turnovers — OW 13 (Stokes 4), BC 16 (Scott 6). Blocked shots — OW 1 (Bird 1), BC 3 (Scott 1, Mocaby 1, Bonner 1). Steals — OW 7 (Miller 2), BC 6 (Scott 3).