Mishawaka, Ind. - Bethel College (IN) men's basketball head coach Mike Lightfoot reached a historic milestone on Tuesday, January 21, when his No. 22 Pilots defeated the Taylor University (Ind.) Trojans 84-70 for their 16th win of the season at the Wiekamp Athletic Center in Mishawaka.
The win also marked Lightfoot's 700th victory of his illustrious career. Lightfoot has won 700 games the way his teams have played year after year--fast. In only 960 chances, Lightfoot joined the ranks of some of the greatest coaches ever to pace the sidelines--Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, Phog Allen, Henry Iba, Bob Knight--to name a few, making him the 3rd-quickest NAIA coach and 18th-quickest coach in men's college basketball history to reach 700 career victories.
Lightfoot was modest about his milestone win, saying it was simply a case of being around for a very long time. But when asked why he had stayed at Bethel for his entire career (1987-pr.), Lightfoot became nostalgic.
"There are so many former players and coaches over the years who are responsible for this, it's not just one individual," Lightfoot remarked. "Because of their effort and dedication to Bethel, it makes for a great accomplishment for our entire program." He continued, "I think it will mean a lot when it's all over. Until then, we're enjoying the process each and every day as a team."
The Pilots, who improved to 16-5 overall and 5-4 in the Crossroads League, snapped a two-game home losing streak in a rematch of last season's Crossroads League Tournament championship game.
The game began with Bethel storming out to a quick 9-3 advantage resulting in a quick timeout by first-year Taylor coach Josh Andrews just four minutes in.
The Trojans received their coaches wake-up call going on a 10-2 run that gave TU a 13-11 lead with 14:59 remaining in the first half.
Senior guard Ryan Benner would catch fire late as part of his 10 first half points to give Bethel a 26-23 advantage with just over six minutes to play. Michael Mislan would come off the bench giving BC a huge boost with six points in six minutes of action giving the Pilots a 37-32 lead at intermission.
Early in the second half Taylor closed the gap to just three, but Benner would stay hot and help his squad go on a 13-2 run to increase their lead to 14 points (50-36) in the first five minutes of play.
Taylor (9-11, 3-6) quickly turned things around and after a basket by Josh Riikonen they would cut their deficit to just six (52-46).
The Pilots would ultimately decide the game after a 17-4 run to go up by as many as 19 points (69-50) at the 8:24 mark.
The Trojans would slowly chip away at the lead to come as close as 10 (80-70) with 0:37 seconds remaining, but Bethel would close out the contest scoring the final four points giving them the 84-70 victory.
Lightfoot arrived at Bethel in 1987 and took over a program from the legendary Homer Drew that had never been to the NAIA national tournament nor won a league championship. Since then, the Pilots have won 17 league championships and made 10 NAIA National Championship appearances, including three titles (1995, 1997, 1998) and two additional Fab Fours (1999, 2009). The NAIA Hall of Fame coach has recorded twenty-one 20-win seasons, including ten 30-win seasons, and owns a career winning percentage of .729 (700-260), the second-highest among active NAIA Division II coaches with at least 350 victories.
As others learned of Lightfoot's accomplishment, the congratulations started rolling in:
Bethel President Gregg Chenoweth
"To win north of 70% of games over decades is such a rare feat the basketball community would ask, "What does this successful coach do?" But those who know Coach Lightfoot are as just as inclined to have us all ask, "What does this Christian man do?" His acclaim leans as much on the second as the first."
Bethel Athletic Director Jody Martinez
"Coach has impacted so many lives and that includes mine. He uses the game of basketball as a tool to the ultimate for impact. He introduced me to mission trips and why it is important to serve. Playing for him in high school and college was a blessing from God. He has helped me develop into the man of God that I am today. To me – that is better than any championship or wins that I have ever been a part of in my athletic career. Coach has high expectations for his players, his basketball program, his staff and his own life. Thank you for impacting my life and many others that have crossed your path of life. Congrats on your 700th win. Now, win 700 more…"
Randy Romer ('97)
"To me, Coach Lightfoot will always be a Man of God that leads with integrity and compassion at the same time pushing my untapped potential on the basketball court. Congratulations to Coach Lightfoot, past and present coaching staff and the entire Lightfoot family for your dedication to serve the Lord and Bethel basketball. Go Pilots!"
William Walker ('09)
"I can never repay Coach for the time and effort that he put into me to develop me as a player and even more as a man. Reaching 700 wins is a great accomplishment, but it's the countless lives that he has and will continue to touch that truly shape his legacy at Bethel."
Brian Bechtel ('94)
"Coach Lightfoot prepared me for life as a husband, father, teacher, mentor, and coach. His life teachings go far beyond 700 basketball wins and for that I'll forever be grateful. Congrats on another milestone!"
Northwood (Fla.) Head Coach Rollie Massimino
"Congratulations on reaching a milestone that not many coaches have reached in their careers. I predict at least 1,000 before you are ready to retire. You have shown tremendous leadership and professionalism, and have produced young men who went on to become successful individuals in their daily lives. Continued success and call me when you reach 1,000."
Lightfoot joins former Taylor coach Paul Patterson as the second coach to reach the 700-win plateau at an Indiana four-year college. Patterson's milestone win, ironically, came against the Pilots during the 2011-12 season.
The Pilots return to action on Saturday, January 25 in a pivotal Crossroads League matchup against the No. 11 Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (17-4, 7-2) Tip-off is set for 3:00 pm in the Wiekamp Athletic Center on the campus of Bethel College.