The Cinderella run of the St. Gregory's men's basketball team came to an end Monday night in the Fab Four of the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium. The No. 18-ranked Cavaliers ran into a buzz saw that was No. 8 Vanguard (Calif.), as the Lions used a hot shooting night to advance to the title game with a 108-88 victory.
Vanguard was led by a tournament-high 42 points from senior Preston Wynne, who finished 14-of-19 from the field – including a 6-of-9 mark from three-point range. As a team, the Lions shot 59 percent overall and hit 14 treys.
Wynne and the Lions seemingly couldn't miss from the start, as the designated home team led for all but a couple minutes of the opening moments of the game.
St. Gregory's had held its first three tournament opponents to 25 percent shooting from three-point range, but allowed Vanguard to shoot 64 percent (14-of-22).
"We just couldn't stop them," said St. Gregory's coach John Martin. "Any time a team shoots 60 percent from the floor, it's going to be difficult to win. We knew Wynne was a great player and that he had the ability to score in bunches, but we didn't expect this."
The Cavs were led by 20 points from junior Marty Wilkerson, who finished 10 of 23 from the floor. Wilkerson averaged nearly 24 points per game during the tournament. He was one of five St. Gregory's players in double figures.
Jaron Vierra had 16 – including a 4-of-7 night from three-point range. T.J. Thornton added 15 on 6-of-11 from the floor, and Trey Jones scored 12. Senior Brock Vorwald totaled 11 on a perfect 5-for-5 night.
The Cavs shot 45 percent from the floor as a team and led the Lions in bench scoring, second-chance points and points in the paint. But St. Gregory's couldn't overcome the shooting night of Vanguard.
"This has been a great experience for us – especially for our four seniors," Martin said. "We didn't just want to stay a day or two here. We wanted to play on Tuesday night, and we nearly did. I am proud of this team and the effort they put forth to make it this far."
Vanguard shot a blistering 58 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes. Wynne was on target, hitting on nine of his 13 shot attempts for 27 first-half points. He made four treys, and as a team, the Lions were 7-of-11 from long range.
St. Gregory's cut an eight-point deficit to three after a quick 7-3 run that was capped by a Jones four-point play with 2:21 left in the first. Vanguard, though, closed with a 9-2 spurt for the 10-point advantage going into the break – the first time all tournament SGU trailed at halftime.
The Cavs were led by Thornton's 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the opening period. Wilkerson was held to only two on 1-of-7 from the floor.
The Lions opened the second half on an 11-4 run – capped by a Chris Gorman three-pointer – to increase the advantage to 64-47 with 16:35 to play. It was 76-58 at the 12:08 mark when St. Gregory's made what proved to be its last real push.
The Cavs got buckets on three consecutive possessions to cut their deficit to 12, and Wilkerson converted in the lane to make it 78-68 with 8:20 to go. A Thornton free throw moments later made it a nine-point game, but St. Gregory's couldn't get any closer. Vanguard scored 14 of the game's final 19 points.
St. Gregory's concludes what has proven to be a record-breaking season with a program-best 24-10 mark. The Cavs made their first tournament appearance in 14 years and their deepest-ever run, knocking off three ranked teams on consecutive days for a spot in the semifinals.