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Even in terms of the two teams' prospects for divine intervention, last week's championship game of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in Kansas City between Grand Canyon College of Phoenix, Ariz, and Midwestern University of Wichita Falls, Texas shaped up as a standoff.
Bayard Forrest, the 6'10" Grand Canyon center, rejected offers to attend Oregon State, Arizona State and Hawaii. He says he selected Grand Canyon, a Southern Baptist college of well under 1,000 students, "because I wanted to go to a Christian school." Forrest frequently speaks to religious groups on the theme, "You don't have to be a weakling to be a Christian." In Herbie Brisbane, known as The Backdoor Man for his ability to sneak along the baseline for easy layups, Midwestern countered with a licensed Baptist minister.
Secularly, the game was a triumph for Forrest and Grand Canyon, which won 65-54 to run its season record to 30-3. And Forrest, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots in the championship game, was declared the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "It was more than we ever expected," he said. "We came here with the goal of winning three games because that meant the NAIA would pay our way to stay for the last two days and we could watch the finals."
Each year the NAIA rounds up 32 good small-college teams, few of which are known outside their home territories. And the teams invariably have aspects so curious that even early-round losers enjoy staying around to find out how all the eccentricities work themselves out. Among those showing up this time was Coach Jay Bowerman of Malone ( Ohio) College, who recruited most of his team by mailing 2,000 form letters to high school prospects and ended up playing post office so successfully that his team kissed off heavy pretournament favorite Kentucky State 85-77 before being eliminated itself in the quarterfinals.
Then there was Palm Beach Atlantic ( Fla.) College, which has no gymnasium, and George Harris, a 30-year-old, 5'7" guard from St. Mary's ( Texas) University. And Edinboro (Pa.) State included in its 21-4 record two victories over Indiana University. Edinboro's victim, it turned out, was from Indiana, Pa., not Bloomington, Ind.
The oddest thing of all about the tournament was Kentucky State's first-round defeat. The Thorobreds came to Kansas City with a 26-2 record, the No. 1 seeding and numerous copies of a 168-page press book subtitled "The Time Is Now." For State, it wasn't. Playing listlessly and with as little cohesion as passion, the Thorobreds lost to unseeded Malone.
Kentucky State's defeat threw the tournament wide open. Both finalists had narrow escapes in second-round games. Fifth-seeded Grand Canyon, behind at the half, came on to defeat Illinois Wesleyan 66-63, while Midwestern trailed Norfolk (Va.) State by one with 1:24 to play. The Indians sank four free throws to win 90-87.
In routing 1974 runner-up Alcorn (Miss.) State 88-68 in the semifinals, Grand Canyon got 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and eight blocked shots from Forrest. Midwestern, which had knocked out No. 2-seeded Fairmont (W. Va.) State 85-80 in the quarterfinals, again resorted to free throws to beat St. Mary's in the semis, hitting on 17 of 20 in the second half for a 65-60 win.
The final figured to be a classic confrontation between the controlled offense of Grand Canyon and Midwestern's fast break and pressing defense. "We've got to hit early to drive Canyon out of its slow tempo," said Midwestern Coach Gerald Stockton. "Then there's Forrest. He's not only tall, he spreads out." Grand Canyon Coach Ben Lindsey figured his team would have a chance if it could keep Midwestern from getting its inside game working.
Midwestern did not hit early or late, inside or out. It made only 22 of 70 field-goal attempts and 10 of 20 free-throw tries. "Forrest intimidated them underneath, and they couldn't shoot well enough outside to hurt us," said Lindsey. When Midwestern sent a defender to help Isaac DeVore, who gave away three inches guarding Forrest, Grand Canyon passed the ball to the free man. He was usually Mike Haddow, who scored 19 points. Haddow's three-point play with less than five minutes to go and Grand Canyon ahead by five put the game away.