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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

"Have Mercy!" Graceland Wins NAIA Championship At The Buzzer

Illustration for article titled "Have Mercy!" Graceland Wins NAIA Championship At The Buzzer
Photo: Colin E. Braley (AP Photo)

This part of the NCAA tournament is always the toughest—after four straight days of non-stop basketball, buzzer-beaters, and cutting-edge men’s fashion, you, the college basketball fan, is expected to quit cold turkey at sit at home in reflection for 72 hours. It’s downright cruel, but worry not: Graceland’s Justin Harley has you covered.


On Tuesday night, while the big boys ran practice sets against the zone and inhaled film, Graceland and LSU Alexandria faced off in the NAIA national title game. Graceland’s Will Nelson and LT Davis were the stars of the evening, with Nelson finishing with a career-high 30 points and Davis going for 22 points. And although (or because) Nelson or Davis did not take the final shot, the finish was a buzzer-beater that rivaled anything seen during last weekend’s deeply satisfying opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

With the score knotted at 80 and five seconds remaining in overtime, Graceland’s LT Davis, the tournament MVP, made a move toward a spot at the top of the key, drawing in both his man and an over-eager defender covering Harley, who stood in waiting on the wing. The second the LSUA help collapsed on Davis, he kicked the ball to an open Harley, who banged home a three-pointer with no time remaining claim an 83-80 victory in front of the largest NAIA title crowd in 16 years.

The title-winner is all the more astounding when you consider 1) Harley converted just 16 three-pointers in the regular season and 2) Graceland was competing in its very first NAIA tournament this year. And no, it’s not The King’s alma mater; it’s a liberal arts school from Iowa that boasts Caitlyn Jenner as its sole graduated athlete of note.

The finish marked the second time in two years the NAIA title game required an extra five minutes to yield a champion.