Story By Chad Waller | NAIA National Office
Photos courtesy of Referee Photo
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box Score) No. 5-seeded Graceland (Iowa) continued it’s underdog journey, coming back from a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat top-seeded LSU Shreveport (La.), 87-80, in the first semifinal of the 81st Annual NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, Monday evening inside Municipal Auditorium. Appearing in their first-ever national championship, the Yellowjackets shot 57.1 percent (16-of-28) and held a 53-34 second-half scoring advantage. Graceland will play the winner of the second semifinal between No. 1 William Penn (Iowa) and No. 4 LSU Alexandria (La.), on Tuesday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. CDT, broadcast live on ESPN3.
- Graceland moved its record to 28-10 on the year.
- LSU Shreveport concluded its season with a record of 30-5
- Higher seeds are 15-14 through 29 games, while 23 games have been decided by 10 points or fewer including 14 by six points or less
- LT Davis notched his third 20-point effort of the championship (in four games) with 28 points to lead Graceland. Davis shot 7-of-16 from the floor and connected on 12-for-14 free throw attempts. He has now averaged 24.0 points in four tournament games.
- Will Nelson added 22 points for the Yellowjackets, while Jeremy Deemer ended with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
- Benajamin Batts led all scorers with 29 points as the Pilot star nailed 9-of-15 from long range. He was one 3-pointer shy of tying the all-time single-game tournament record.
- LSU Shreveport’s Stevie Clark came away with 22 points, but needed 11 points from the free throw line as she shot just 5-of-20 from the field.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Trailing by as many as 15 minutes late in the first half, Graceland started to chip away heading into the locker room. A trio of free throws by Will Nelson put the deficit at 46-34 at intermission.
- Beginning with a 3-pointer by Graceland’s Dalton Payton, the Yellowjackets went on a 20-4 run to take its first lead of the game at 9:31 mark of the second half (57-55).
- The Yellowjackets would not trail after that point and went up by as much as 11 (74-63) with just over four minutes to play.
- The Pilots trimmed it down to three on two occasions, the last on a 3-pointer by Benjamin Batts with :26 seconds remaining.
- Graceland sealed the win by making 4-of-4 free throws in the final :25 seconds.
HOW THEY SAW IT
- Graceland head coach Craig Doty– “Our players have such high character. They care about each other, they love each other and are so disciplined. We actually felt good going into halftime even though we were down because we felt like we were getting better shots than they were. We thought there was no way they'd hit 11 3-pointers in the second half. We felt if we could just keep doing what we were doing and keep it together down the stretch, we'd win. (The run to the finals) is bigger than basketball for Graceland University. This is about the university, the community, the alumni base and our alumni base is strong. Right now the excitement on campus is being generated by basketball and this is really special. We probably had 3,000 people from a town of 2,200 here tonight."
- LSU Shreveport head coach Kyle Blankenship – “In the first half, we played like we have all year; we shot the ball extremely well. The second half, our shots weren’t falling and Graceland played the kind of ball they needed to in order to win tonight. They made things tough for us. I’m proud of our guys for the season they had. They found a way to come together. I am grateful to be able to coach these young men.
INSIDE THE BOX SCORE
- Both teams relied on their starters for a bulk of the scoring – LSU Shreveport got just three points from its bench, while the Yellowjackets received six.
- It was a tale of two halves from the shooting perspective. LSU Shreveport was 48.5 percent in the first half, while the club was just 25.7 percent in the second half. Graceland swung the other way, going 31.0 percent in the first 20 minutes and heating up to 57.1 percent in the second stanza.
- LSU Shreveport used 49 percent (16-of-33) shooting in the first 20 minutes and 11 three-pointers to take a 46-34 halftime advantage.
- Benjamin Batts compiled 23 points by halftime. He would eventually pile in 29 points to lead all scorers.
LSU Shreveport (La.)
Appearing at their 14th NAIA National Championship for 14-consecutive years since 2005... Falls to 11-14 in the postseason and 0-2 all-time in the semifinals... One of four teams participating in the tournament from the Red River Athletic Conference... This was LSUS's second time in school history appearing in the semifinals since 2013 when the team fell to Georgetown (Ky.)... The Pilots finished their regular season winning 10 out of their last 12 games... Pilots ranked 13th in the NAIA with 9.5 three-pointers made per game – tonight they finished with 14.
The Yellowjackets are playing in their first NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship and are 4-0 all-time in the national tournament...Graceland is one of four Heart of America Athletic Conference teams in this year's tournament field and one of two (along with William Penn (Iowa)) to advance to the semifinals...Heart teams are 8-2 at the national tournament thus far...Graceland is 9-4 against national tournament teams this season... Graceland has won its last 10 straight games, 11 of its last 12 and are 18-2 since Jan. 17... LT Davis is averaging 24.0 points per game for the Yellowjackets in the national tournament so far (in four games)... Jeremy Deemer's 13 points and 13 rebounds gave him his 15th double-double of the season; Deemer is averaging 12.5 rebounds per game in the tournament.