William Carey men’s basketball prepares for NAIA Tournament


HATTIESBURG, Miss (WJTV) – Tucked away in the corner of Hattiesburg is one of the hub city’s best kept secrets: The William Carey University men’s basketball team.

You may have heard of this small NAIA team when they took down Southern Miss in a 78-72 stunner in Hattiesburg in November. 

Next week the NAIA Tournament kicks off in Kansas City, Missouri. And for the fourth straight season, William Carey will be there competing for a national championship.

“What’s your expectation for this tournament?”

“Well we want to win it,” said Knight. “We want to go out…I’ve told these guys all along, I said ‘look, when we go to the national tournament we want to win.”

The men’s basketball team at William Carey University is no stranger to success. The Crusaders have won 20 or more games every year since 2011, and have made the NAIA Tournament four straight seasons. 

Knight says one of the way’s he gets his team ready each and every year for these tournaments is keeping his non-conference schedule as diverse and competitive as possible.

“The only way you made it to Nationals was to win your conference tournament. Or in those days, district tournament. It’s changed now, obviously we received an At-Large bid this year based on our #14 national ranking. So I always like to prepare our team by playing good, tough, non-conference schedules. I think you can only be the best if you play the best.

One of the leaders of Knight’s squad is Branden Sheppard. Sheppard, who’s averaging close to 12 points per game this season, says he thinks his team has benefitted from playing such a tough out-of-conference schedule.

“I believe it helped because most teams, they’ll schedule some small schools that they know they’re going to beat,” explained Sheppard. “With Coach Knight, I feel he did it so he can, you know, get us better. Get ready for the conference tournament, because that’s what the regular season is for, to get ready for the conference tournament. And the conference tournament is to get ready for Nationals.”

So what’s the key for the crusaders come tournament time? Sheppard says it’s all about dominating on defense. 

“It’s all about making the other team feel uncomfortable,” said a smiling Sheppard. “It’s like being that fly always in your way. It’s like that. So that’s what we want to do.”

“How much do you enjoy that?”

“I love it. I love it.”

William Carey will be leaving for Kansas City this weekend where they will take on Peru State in the first round of the NAIA Tournament on Thursday. 

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