La Mirada~Before the season began in October the coaches in the Golden State Athletic Conference voted and picked Biola Men’s Basketball to finish fifth in the conference standings.
After a 4-12 GSAC run in 2014-15, this Biola Eagles team smashed all preseason expectations and on Saturday became the 2015-16 GSAC Champions. It’s Biola’s first GSAC regular season title since 2001-02 and solidifies the Eagles’ place as the front-runner to win the conference tournament and earn a bid to the NAIA National Tournament.
On Saturday night, the Eagles completed its 27-3 run through the regular season with 65-59 win over No. 5 Hope International to clinch the conference title and finish with a regular season conference record of 14-2.
“I feel great,” said Head Coach Dr. Dave Holmquist. “I’ve coached here 36 years and I’ve never been more proud of a team than this one. I think this win tonight is just a reflection of the kind of effort and character these players showed all year long.”
The crowd inside Chase Gymnasium was shattering decibel levels throughout the night as the large contingent of Biola supporters and much smaller group of Hope International fans battled back and forth to support their respective sides.
A three-point make from Ryan Swain opened the scoring in the first minute of play. Those points gave Biola an instant lead, a lead that would carry throughout the entire 40 minutes of play as the Eagles never trailed.
Never losing the lead was not indicative of exactly how the night played out, as a well-coached HIU team kept tensions running high and the score close throughout.
“This Hope International team is really well coached,” said Holmquist. “Bill (Czech) has done a great job of building that program as over the last four years they’ve become excellent.”
Just as it has all season long this Biola team rode its NAIA-leading defense to carry it to the big victory. The Eagles held a Hope International squad that came into the game averaging 80 points-per-game to fewer than 60.
The weapon of choice for tonight’s defensive effort was definitely the block. After a few breakdowns in transition the Eagles’ guards were adept at tracking down the Hope International players and swatting the ball down at the backboard.
Biola ended up with nine blocks against HIU’s two. Caelan Tiongson and Steve Herve led the effort with three a piece. Dakari Archer and Terrell Funches added a combined three as even the smaller guys got a piece of the action.
Great play inside helped the Eagles score 14 of the first 20 points of the ballgame to up the fan interest and secure its position as the dominant side on the floor. A Funches dunk and a couple strong moves around the rim from Tiongson stand out as especially impactful in the early going.
Of course, that tandem was fantastic from start to finish in this one as the pair of seniors combined for 35 of Biola’s 65 on the night. Funches led the way with a 22-point performance that included some jaw-dropping athleticism in the paint and a bevy of made free throws (100% FTs).
Nine points would be the largest margin that the Eagles could extend the lead to in the first half as a handful of turnovers and a HIU hot streak from beyond the arc allowed the Royals to tighten the game to 27-24 heading into the halftime break.
The Royals made three three-pointers in the final three and a half minutes of the half despite being held 0-for-10 from distance through the rest of that period.
The final 20 minutes was all about who was willing to work the hardest to walk away with the win as both teams shot effectively, rebounded well and were called for around the same number of personal fouls.
Biola built up to its biggest lead of the ballgame, 42-30, with just under 14 minutes on the clock, but the way the night had gone up until that point nobody was convinced it’d be an easy road to the finish.
The Eagles did not make it easy on themselves as they turned the ball over 12 times in the second half to allow the pesky Royals to keep it just a little too close for comfort.
HIU would score nine of the next 11 as they brought the game back to within five at right around the 10-minute mark. But, that’s right where the margin would stay as the teams battled back-and-forth for the remainder of the game, but the Royals never got closer than four points back.
“We knew it’d be close. We knew it’d be tough. We’re just happy it ended the way it did,” said Holmquist.
Biola was able to keep the Royals at arm’s length throughout the evening because the team did the little things that good teams are supposed to do in order to get wins. The biggest stat to support that is the fact that BU went 16-of-17 from the free throw line, including 14-of-14 in the second half. That made for a massive difference as HIU was just 11-of-23 from the stripe.
So, after all the blocks, all the shots, all the steals, made free throws and dunks, what it comes down to is a strong group of young, Christian men coming together as a family and supporting each other in order to smash all expectations and bring home a championship.
“This is a team that’s really enjoyed itself all year long,” said Holmquist. “They have so much fun together. They’re great fits for the university. As a coach it’s just been a special year.”
This team was picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches’ poll, but instead it came together thanks to the strong leadership of the senior class and coach Holmquist and brought the ‘ship back to La Mirada where it belongs.
The Eagles close the book on this regular season with a 27-3 overall record, a 14-2 conference mark and a bright future ahead of them in postseason play. Biola will start its postseason run with a GSAC Tournament Semifinal game against the winner of an earlier game between Arizona Christian and Westmont. The Eagles’ matchup is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 at Hope International.