The Xavier University men’s basketball is back in the NAIA Division I National Championships, aiming to make a mark at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri, starting with Thursday’s matchup against Mid-America Christian.
The Gold Rush (24-9) is making its fifth consecutive appearance at nationals, and 15th in school history.
It’s the second in as many seasons for forward Sydney Coleman, a transfer from Jackson State.
Another season in the program has allowed Coleman to become a bigger part of the offense. He’s averaging 12.1 points and 5.2 rebounds a game, both second on the team. He’s shooting 64.3 percent from the field with a collection of high-percentage shots around the rim, including layups and alleys from leading scorer Morris Wright (14.5 ppg), a guard, and others.
“Having a year under my belt, I felt like I could do more than I did last year,” Coleman said. “Now it’s just remembering what I need to do on the court in certain situations. We have a more balanced attack than we had last year.”
Guard Semar Farris leads Mid-America Christian (23-10), averaging 17.5 points and 4.9 assists per game. The 5-foot-5 guard also leads the Evangels in steals (71) and three-pointers (81).
Both programs are coming off loses in their conference finals.
Xavier lost 76-58 at home to then-NAIA No. 1 Talladega in the Gulf South Athletic Conference Tournament championship game, while Mid-America Christian, the Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season champion for the first time in school history, was upset 94-60 by Wayland Baptist University in the SAC tournament final.
Coleman scored 16 points with nine rebounds in the GCAC finals, but Xavier suffered two costly turnovers in the backcourt, transforming a five-point deficit with 2:44 left into a double-digit loss.
“We have a chance to redeem ourselves,” Coleman said. “It’s my last time playing college basketball, so I want to go out strong.”
Xavier coach Dannton Jackson, the winningest coach in school history and in his 12th season, expects the Gold Rush to work through their mistakes in the GCAC tournament final.
“We’ve had about a week or so to move on and moving forward, we want to play well up here on both sides of the basketball,” Jackson said.