UPLAND, Ind. – Taylor University's first men's basketball showing at the NAIA National Championship Tournament in 11 years will start on Wednesday, March 8 with a 5:00 pm (ET) tip against second-seeded and No. 8 Warner University.
The No. 25 and seventh-seeded Trojans earned the final at-large bid into the 32-team tournament to claim the 15th trip to NAIA Nationals in program history. TU did so by going 20-11 and finishing in a tie for third in the Crossroads League, picking up wins over now No. 3 Bethel and No. 10 Davenport en route to the 27th 20-win campaign in program history and its highest win total since winning 21 games in 2012-2013.
The Trojans are paced by Crossroads League Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-Crossroads League standout, Mason Degenkolb, who rated third among all NAIA Division II freshmen with 17.6 points per outing. Juniors Keaton Hendricks and Tim Fleming joined Degenkolb in claiming all-league honors. Hendricks earned an Honorable Mention nod with 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 41.6 percent from the perimeter, with Fleming taking a spot on the Crossroads League All-Defensive Team.
The play of Degenkolb, Hendricks and Fleming highlighted the strength of TU on the perimeter all season, as the team ranked No. 18 in the nation with 9.7 treys per game while limiting foes to a 32.7-percent rate from deep for the 18th-best mark in the nation. The Trojans made a program-best 300 three-point shots this season, while also shooting in the three-highest single-game three-point totals in program history.
Taylor will need to be on point from deep against the second-seeded Warner Royals, who went 26-4 and clinched an automatic bid by winning The Sun Conference Tournament Championship. WU advanced to the NAIA Tournament Quarterfinals one year ago and went 6-1 against teams ranked or receiving votes, including a win over No. 5 Robert Morris in its lone showing against a team in the tournament this season. The Royals average 88.6 points per outing on the strength of 31.1 points per contest from the nation's leading scorer, senior guard Warren Hall, who has eclipsed 40 points in seven games this year.
Hall also leads Warner with 7.0 rebounds per game and has dished out 4.1 assists per contest, while shooting 49.8 percent from the field. The All-American candidate is supported by 13.3 points per game from classmate Josh Ellis, who is shooting 44.2 percent from downtown.
The winner of Wednesday's contest, will advance into a second-round game against third-seeded and No. 11 Trinity International (28-5), or the host College of the Ozarks (20-9) squad on Friday, March 10 at 8:30 pm (ET).
All of TU's games will have a free audio broadcast on the Trojan Sports Network, with the NAIA providing free live stats and pay-per-view video of all 31 games in the National Championship Tournament. All coverage links are available at Athletics.Taylor.Edu.
Extra Extra! More Notes of Interest
-Taylor went 2-5 against teams in the 32-team NAIA National Tournament Field this season
-Taylor is making its first NAIA National Tournament appearance since 2006 and the 15th in program history
-TU's last win at Nationals was a 63-52 victory over Aquinas in 2006
-TU is 6-14 all-time at the National Championship Tournament
-Trojans are 4-10 in first round games at Nationals
-This season marks the 25th anniversary of TU's only team to win more than one game at Nationals, as the 1990-1991 squad won three games to make the Fab Four.
-The two TU victories against NAIA qualifiers were at Davenport and in Odle Arena against Bethel
-TU's win at then-No. 3 Davenport was its first road win over a ranked foe since 2012
-Taylor went 0-2 against teams from the Sunshine State this season
-TU went 1-0 on neutral courts, topping Governors State, 95-78, on November 5
-Taylor opened 10-0 for its best start in program history
-Taylor's 10-game win streak was its longest since 1993-1994
-Taylor climbed as high as No. 7 in the NAIA Top-25 Poll for best since 2005-2006
-Trojans also had their best league start (5-1) and highest league finish since 2005-2006
-TU won 20 games in the regular season for first time since 2011-2012
-TU notched its first 20-win season since 2012-2013 and the 27th in program history
-Taylor sank 20 treys for program record in season-opening, 128-69, win over Great Lakes Christian
-Trojans went on to post three-highest single-game three-point totals in program history
-Taylor has made a program-record 300 three-point shots this season
-TU has scored at least 80 points 16 times, its highest total since 1972-1973
-Taylor notched an increased win total for third-straight year, overall and in Crossroads League
-Trojans rank No. 11 in NAIA history with 1,325 all-time victories
-Trojans ranks No. 5 among all NAIA Division II programs in all-time wins
-Trojans are the second-winningest program represented at NAIA DII Tourney, behind only Dakota Wesleyan's 1,432 victories
-TU has posted collective team GPA above 3.0 in each of last four years
-Taylor hosts the much-heralded Silent Night game each December and is 20-0 in the game