TreVion Crews set to lead Bethel Pilots into Sweet 16 of NAIA national tournament

Scott Davidson
South Bend Tribune

Wearing his Bethel basketball uniform the past three seasons has meant a lot to TreVion Crews.

It’s also meant a lot to the tradition-rich Pilots program to have No. 3 on their side.

Senior star Crews will lead his No. 21 team into the Sweet 16 of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championships Thursday night. Bethel (22-10) faces No. 1 ranked and top seed Indiana Wesleyan University (30-2) at 8:15 p.m. ET in Kansas City.

Crews led the Pilots to a memorable 85-81 win this past Saturday versus No. 10 University of Providence. He scored 13 of his game-high 39 points in the final 6:13 as Bethel erased an 11-point deficit with a 24-9 run to close the second round tourney game. Crews hit two free throws with three seconds left to seal the win.

“This feels good my senior year,” said Crews of making the Sweet 16. “The thing is that we held together as a team and continued to believe. We just continued to fight and not give up.”

“I’m just very happy and I feel blessed to have this opportunity that we have.”

Crews clutch play did not surprise second-year Bethel coach Steve Drabyn in the least.

“He’s a gamer,” said Drabyn of his 6-0 backcourt ace. “He’s a great talent, but he’s also put in the work. It’s his competitive drive and his mentality.

“When the stage is the biggest, TreVion has a confidence that he’s the best player on the court. He just loves those moments.”

“He just has such great playmaking ability. Our best play sometimes is to just get him the ball and let him make a play. Just let him play.”

“Our league has prepared us so well for moments like we had on Saturday. All of our conference games in January and February felt like tourney moments. It’s such an advantage to play in a league like we have where you have to produce every game.”

Crews simply does it all for the Pilots. He leads his team in scoring (24.8), assists (4.9), steals (2.1) and 3-pointers (109). Crews averages 34.6 minutes per game and is shooting 48 percent overall from the field, including 39 percent from distance, and 87 percent at the free throw line. He also grabs 5.3 rebounds per game.

Crews began his career at Jackson Community College in Michigan after a stellar prep career at Fort Wayne North High School. He then sat out a year at Bethel. He averaged 20.3 ppg. as a sophomore and then 23.1 ppg. last season to earn All-American honors.

“I’ve been in tough situations in my life, pressure situations before,” Crews said. “I feel like I’ve put in the work to be ready for the big moments. I had a lot of confidence last Saturday. I had been in situations like that and tested like that before.”

Crews has scored 2,179 points in his three years in Mishawaka. He’s also averaged 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game in his 96 games for the Pilots. Crews career Bethel numbers also show a nearly 51 percent overall field goal mark, including 40 percent on 3-pointers, and 86 percent accuracy from the line.

The Pilots, who will be making their 13th trip to the Sweet 16 in 17 tournament appearances, have won 65 games in Crews three seasons on the court.

Drabyn, a former star at LaPorte High School, loves more than just the production of his star.

“TreVion’s growth on and off the court has been remarkable,” said Drabyn, who played at Belmont University. “He’s a way better teammate this year than last year.

“He’s got a quiet personality, but he’s become more engaged this year with his teammates. To see him high-fiving his teammates Saturday night was great. To see his growth and maturation as a player and a person has been awesome. I’m really proud of him.”

Bethel meets a very familiar foe in its next step. The Pilots lost at home to Crossroads League foe IWU Nov. 25 by a 95-92 final. Bethel then lost in Marion to the Wildcats 103-83 on Feb. 13.

Indiana Wesleyan, which won NAIA national titles in 2014, 2016 and 2018, is led by senior star Kyle Mangas. The former Warsaw standout averages 29.8 ppg. and is the program’s all time leading scorer with 3,431 points. Mangas has been the Crossroads League Player of the Year four times, the NAIA Player of the Year twice and won the Bevo Francis Award in 2020.

The Wildcats beat IUSB 95-76 at home Saturday night to earn a spot in the Sweet 16. Mangas scored 30 points as did Seth Maxwell, a seven-foot junior for the Wildcats. Maxwell averages 17.5 ppg. Senior guard Dylan Anderson, who previously played at Toledo University, averages 13 ppg.

“We both know each other so well that there will not be many surprises come Thursday night,” said Drabyn of facing IWU. “We lost to them at home by three points and were tied at halftime of our game at their place so our guys have confidence that we can play with them.

“A big key for us is to limit their scoring runs. They have arguably two of the top five players in the country in Mangas and Maxwell.

“What stands out about Mangas is his competitive drive. He never turns it off. He wants to win every possession. He just plays hard and competes.”

The Wildcats are coached by another former LaPorte star in Greg Tonagel. Tonagel, who is in his 16th season at IWU, played at Valparaiso University. The IWU roster also includes senior Billy Harness (John Glenn), junior Luke Stephens (Fairfield) and freshman Alex Stauffer (Northridge).

Crews scored 30 and 31 points in the two losses to the Wildcats. Mangas had 27 points and 37 points in the earlier meetings.

“We just have to all play good team defense,” noted Crews of the matchup. “We all have our roles to play. It’s not just Mangas. They also have a 7-footer.”

IWU finished 15-1 in Crossroads League play this season. The Pilots went 10-7 in a conference that sent four teams to the national tournament.

Crews, who hopes to pursue his hoops career beyond Bethel, is on pace to become the first member of his family to graduate from college.

Crews dishes out much appreciation to the Pilots, including former head coach Ryne Lighfoot, for affording him the chance.

“To be part of Bethel has meant a lot to me,” said Crews. “They gave me an opportunity when no one else did.

“To be able to come here and grow as a young man and as a player has been a blessing.

“Bethel will always mean a lot to me.”

As will No. 3 to the Pilots program.

Bethel’s TreVion Crews leads the Pilots in scoring, assists, steals and 3-pointers.