FRANKFORT — Defense wins championships.
If you haven't heard that mantra, you haven't heard Keith Adkins, the Campbellsville University men's basketball coach.
Adkins preaches defense first, and his players listen.
Defense is what carried the seventh-ranked Tigers to Sunday's 72-69 victory over the University of the Cumberlands in the finals of the Mid-South Conference Tournament in the Frankfort Convention Center.
"Defense," Adkins said. "They made a run at us and we kind of took a little defensive lapse late in the second half. But defense is what we build our program on. We've got good offensive players, but I don't think we've got enough offense that we can win big-time, high-scoring shootouts. We want to win with defense, defensive rebounding and just playing personnel pretty well."
Campbellsville (28-5) extended its winning streak to six games and claimed the MSC's automatic berth in the NAIA national tournament. Cumberlands (22-10) could receive an at-large berth.
For Cumberlands, it was a case of coming oh so close.
The Patriots trailed 68-54 with 6:25 left, then went on a 14-1 run to throw a scare into Campbellsville. That cut the Tigers' lead to 69-68, but Cumberlands was unable to pull even.
D'Von Campbell's two free throws with 5.9 seconds left extended the lead to 71-68.
Cumberlands got a free throw from Xavier Owens with 2.1 seconds left, but his second-shot intentional miss went out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left.
Campbellsville's Darius Clement added a free throw, and Owens' desperation shot from three-quarters court hit the corner of the backboard.
"That's Cumberlands for you. They're a team that, on paper, shouldn't have been in this game. But nobody informed them of that," Adkins said. "They're a team with a lot of heart, a team that plays extremely physical and extremely hard. They're well coached and you mark my words: they're going to win a game or two out in Kansas City."
Campbell led the Tigers with 16 points. Eric Gaines added 14. Damontre Harris had 13 points and 11 rebounds. And Clement chipped in with 12 points.
"Just staying together on defense. Defense wins championships," Harris said. "Coach keeps getting on us about defense and staying together, and I think that's what got us through, playing defense."
"All tournament, Coach 'A' was talking about how defense will win championships, not offense," Campbell said.
Cumberlands' Tony Bradley netted 17 points. Owens added 13 points and eight rebounds. Then came Michael Dow with 11 points and Iven Rosier with 10.
"I thought they were the best team all year in the league," Patriots Coach Donnie Butcher said of Campbellsville. "And they proved it by winning the regular season and then they win the conference tournament. So they're a good team. Coach Adkins did a really nice job with them. Not only do they have really good players, but they got better and better as the year went on. ... They deserved it."
Campbellsville cashed in on 15 of 23 attempts from the free-throw line, where Cumberlands went 9-for-11.
Now, it's onto the national stage.
"We've got a team that I think is built to win in post-season tournament play," Adkins said. "We're pretty good defensively. we're good enough offensively to win games. So a lot of it depends on the draw out there, a lot of it depends on how the games fall. But the toughest one's the first one. You get that one under your belt out there and who knows from there."