The USAO men's basketball team celebrates winning its conference tournament after the championship game in Chickasha. USAO defeated MACU last week.

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma men’s basketball team is heading to the NAIA’s national tournament.

The 11th-ranked Drovers earned an automatic bid from the Sooner Athletic Conference and won the conference tournament. The second-seeded Drovers played three tournament games in Chickasha and completed the run with a 69-50 win over Mid-America Christian University on Tuesday.

The Drovers came out on top in a pair of close tournament games leading up to the championship victory, winning the first two tournament games by a combined six points. They opened the tournament with a 96-95 victory over Southwestern Christian University and picked up an 88-83 win over John Brown University in a semifinal matchup.

According to USAO, assistant coach Josh Roach had to step in for head coach Chris Francis during the tournament. Roach believes the way the Drovers handled adversity throughout the season helped them deal with the adversity in the conference tournament.

"It seems like we have had a little bit of everything thrown our way this year and it never phased the guys. Through all the cancellations and reschedules, they knew that each day they showed up and were allowed to play or practice ... was the last day guaranteed to them," he said. "Approaching each day like that laid the groundwork for the adversity we got hit with."

Being around the team has been a special experience for Roach.

"Being around this group has been incredibly fun. This is an extremely close group that truly celebrates each other individually. ... Everyone has a role on this team," he said. "They simply work to excel at the responsibilities given to them and trust that continuing to work will bring them more responsibility. It really makes you leave the gym every day excited to be back the next day."

Tournament MVP Cameron Hines mentioned the team's resiliency throughout the season.

"I think that what our team has had to go through this season has really shown our toughness and resiliency as a group," he said. "The way we have played this whole season is to give it all you’ve got every day, and the results will work out in the end."

Hines gave the Drovers their first double-digit lead of the championship game, hitting a 3-pointer to make the score 32-21 in the first half. Up 27-21, USAO went on a 9-0 run to take a 15-point lead over the Evangels.

USAO held a 17-point lead in the first half before carrying a 40-25 lead to the second half of the game.

MACU scored the final two points of the first half and the first six points of the second half to get within nine points of USAO. But the Drovers kept MACU from making a huge run, and their lead surpassed 20 points in the second half.

Four USAO players reached double-digit points in the victory, led by Hines and his 16 points. Hines led all scorers in the victory.

The Drovers also got 12 points from Boubacar Diakite, 11 points from Tre’veon Ellis and 10 points from Stephon Hall. Hall earned an all-tournament selection.

USAO will enter the national tournament with a 17-2 record on the season. The Drovers have won eight games in a row.

National tournament

While USAO already knew it was in the tournament, it still found out its tournament fate Thursday after the NAIA announced tournament selections.

USAO will be competing in Park City, Kansas, during the Opening Round. The Drovers are the No. 1 seed in that bracket of three teams and received a bye in the bracket.

The Drovers will play the winner of Oklahoma Wesleyan University (No. 2 seed) and Park University (No. 3 seed).

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