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Okenwa, Master's Top Biola


IRVINE — It would be unfair to say that Emeka Okenwa of The Master's College wanted to win Monday's championship game of the NAIA Far West Region Independents men's basketball tournament more than any of his teammates, but no Mustang player was more demonstrative on the court.

And for good reason.

It was Okenwa who had missed all seven of his free throws in a four-point loss to Biola on Feb. 18, but the 6-foot-7, 230-pound center from Owerri, Nigeria, redeemed himself in the game at Corcordia University by scoring 22 points and making 12 of 13 foul shots to lead Master's to a 93-80 victory over Biola.

The win was the fourth in a row for the Mustangs (28-4), their 17th in the last 18 games, and most importantly, it propelled them into the 32-team NAIA Division I tournament for the first time.

The tournament will be held at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., from March 15-21. The pairings will be released Thursday.

"These guys and me just wanted to play up to our potential," Okenwa said of his animated play. "We wanted to leave everything on the court, If we lost, we wanted to make sure that we couldn't have given any more."

Master's never trailed as the Mustangs hit five of their first seven shots to take an 11-4 lead less than three minutes into the game and they extended their advantage to 42-32 at halftime.

Biola (24-10) narrowed its deficit to five points twice in the second half, but Master's repelled the Eagles' charge both times.

Biola trimmed the Mustangs' lead to 56-51 with 12 minutes seconds remaining, but Andy Thompson hit a three-point shot and followed that with a layup off a steal. Okenwa added a pair of free throws to give Master's a 63-53 lead with 11 1/2 minutes left.

The Eagles went on a 9-2 run to narrow their deficit to 70-65 with seven minutes to go, but Okenwa hit a shot inside, was fouled and made the free throw, and Mike Penberthy drained a three-pointer to give Master's a 76-65 advantage.

"This was a huge game for us because I'm going to Oklahoma," Thompson yelled above a crowd of well-wishers. "We had one goal and that was to go to Oklahoma and we did that."

Six Master's players scored in double figures. Thompson and Penberthy each had 16 points, followed by Doug Leaman with 13.

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