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Master's Tackles Season's Final Question : College basketball: How do Mustangs measure up against NAIA's best? They find out in first-round game today against Georgia Southwestern.

March 15, 1994|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Oates approached his first season as basketball coach at The Master's College with several questions, but the Mustangs have had all the right answers in compiling a 28-4 record and earning a berth in the NAIA Division I tournament for the first time.

Master's will play Georgia Southwestern today at 8:45 a.m. PST in a first-round game of the 32-team tournament at the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., but at the season's outset Oates did not expect the Mustangs to be living on Tulsa time in March.

"With the players not only learning how to play with each other, but also within a new system, it is going to take this team some time to jell," he said.

Oates compiled a 598-252 record over a 30-year career at the high school, junior college, NCAA Division I, NAIA and international (Athletes in Action) level before replacing Mel Hankinson at Master's.

Hankinson led the Mustangs to a 99-68 record from 1988-93 before taking an assistant coaching position at West Virginia, but Oates led the team to its best ever win-loss record by combining a more up-tempo offense with a more pressing man-to-man defense.

Master's advanced to the NAIA tournament for the first time by defeating Biola, 93-80, in the championship game of the NAIA Far West Region Independents tournament March 7. The Mustangs are seeded 10th.

Georgia Southwestern (23-9), which lists former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn as alumni, won the Georgia Athletic Conference tournament title with a 95-82 victory over Clayton State (Ga.). The Hurricanes are seeded 23rd.

Master's won seven of nine games to start the season, but it took victories over UC Riverside and Northwest Nazarene (Ida.) during a three-game, five-day stretch in December to prove that the team was for real.

"I thought that was a really crucial week for us because we were in the middle of finals, yet we played well," Oates said. "That's when we realized that we were a pretty good team."

Riverside went on win the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. title ahead of defending NCAA Division II champion Cal State Bakersfield and Northwest Nazarene played Eureka (Ill.) in the semifinals of the NAIA Division II tournament Monday night.

Master's will use its standard eight-man rotation in today's game, led by senior center Emeka Okenwa (16.8 points, 9.6 rebounds per game), sophomore forward James Mosley (15.7 ppg) and senior point guard Andy Thompson (10.2 ppg, 7.4 assists).

Juniors Doug Leaman (12.0 ppg) and Colin Lubsey (7.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will round out the starting five at guard and forward, with reserve guard Mike Penberthy (9.6 ppg) playing an integral role in the offense.

The freshman is averaging 16.7 points in the past six games.

Georgia Southwestern is led by junior guards Dwayne Harper and Eric Taylor.

The 6-foot-2 Harper leads the Hurricanes in scoring (17.7), rebounding (7.6) and assists (7.9), and the 5-10 Taylor is averaging 17.2 points.

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