By Eric Montgomery | NAIA Media Coordinator
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box Score) No. 1 seeded Carroll (Mont.) avoided an upset, earning an 87-80 overtime victory over No. 4-seeded SAGU (Texas) in the second round of the 2017 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. With the win, Carroll advances to the national quarterfinal round, and will play No. 3 seed Life (Ga.) on Saturday, March 18 at 12 p.m., CST.
Ife Kalejaiye scored 19 points to lead the Saints (29-5), while Match Burnham came off the bench to add 18 points, including four three-point field goals. Carroll shot 58.9 percent in the first half and 54.2 percent in the game.
“SAGU is a really good basketball team, they have extremely active hands and are fierce rebounders,” said Carroll head coach Carson Cunningham. “We just had to stick with them. They did some “junk” type of defenses where they did a half-zone and we just had to stay with them and get those good looks we needed.”
The game opened with multiple lead changes over the first six minutes of action. Neither team could build a lead that was larger than two points, until Ryan Imhoff scored two of his eight points to put Carroll on top 14-11 with 13:19 to play in the half. Lance Tipton scored his only points in the game and gave SAGU a brief lead, at 21-20 with under nine minutes to play in the first half, on a three-point field goal.
The lead changed hands three more times over the next three minutes, but Carroll built up a 32-26 lead after a Dane Warp field goal with just under two minutes to play before the break. However, the Lions answered back, and closed with a 10-2 run, capping the stretch with a Josh Swearingin field goal as time expired in the half, sending SAGU into halftime with a 36-34 lead.
Carroll’s deficit grew to 44-37 in the opening three minutes of play in the second half, but the Saints came back with a run. A 13-1 spurt over the next four minutes put Carroll in front for the first time since the final minute of the first half, at 50-45. The Saints gradually built is lead up to 62-54 with 8:13 to play as Dane Warp scored three of his five points.
SAGU responded with another run, outscoring Carrol by a 9-0 margin to claim a 63-62 lead after a three-pointer from Keyunta Watkins with 5:26 to play in regulation. SAGU held a 68-63 lead late in the game, but Carroll kept the Lions from scoring over the final 2:38 of play, and Kalejaiye hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 68-68, and send the contest into overtime.
After SAGU briefly held a lead early in the overtime period, Carroll took control by going on a 10-4 run over a two-minute stretch. The Lions got to within an 80-77 score on a three-point field goal from Keyunta Watkins with under one minute to play, but Carroll finished the game going 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the final moments to earn an 87-80 win.
“I’m really happy for our young men,” added Cunningham. “We worked so hard, and they all love Carroll College, basketball and this event. This was a really well played, fun game for both teams involved.”
The Lions were led by Keyunta Watkins who scored 24 points, and topped the 20-point mark for the 15th time this season. Josh Williams added 18 points, his second-highest point total this season. Isaak Rowe finished with 15 points and Kentton Williams chipped in with 11 points. SAGU shot 50.0 percent in the second half and overtime period and forced Carroll into 18 turnovers, which resulted in 25 points.
SAGU finished its season with a record of 24-10.
Carroll – The Saints are making its 11th appearance in the championship and improved to 11-10 all-time ...With the win, Carroll advances to the quarterfinals for the second-straight year and the fourth time in its last six appearances dating back to 2005...The Saints have won at least one game in the national tournament in five of their last six national tournament appearances dating back to 2005...Carroll is one of three Frontier Conference teams in the national championship, raising the league’s ledger in 2017 to 3-1... Saints senior Zach Taylor passed the 2,000-point mark for his career in the second half and now has 2,010 points for his career...Carroll entered the game No. 1 in the NAIA in field goal percentage (53.4 percent) and free throw percentage (81.6 percent) and lived up to those rankings, making 26 of its 48 shots (54.2 percent) and draining 22 of 23 free throws (95.7 percent)...The Saints were also third nationally in 3-point percentage (42.5 percent) and made 13 of 25 (52 percent) from beyond the arc today...The Saints are now 2-0 in overtime games this year...The last time Carroll went to overtime in the national tournament was 2008, losing to Robert Morris (Ill.), 82-73, in the opening round
SAGU – The Lions dropped to 5-6 in five all-time appearances at the national championship … The past three seasons, the Lions have been eliminated in the first-round … The only first-round victory for the Lions came during the 2013 season when they went on to the championship game, but fell to Georgetown (Ky.) 88-62 … SAGU came into the contest as the leader in NAIA Division I for total steals (417) and steals per game (12.6) … In today’s loss SAGU only earned eight steals … Senior Keyunta Watkins, who has been the team leader a majority of the year, was contained to only five points with under 10 minutes remaining in the contest – below his season average of 19.1 points per game … The Lions are 1-1 in overtime contests this season.
SAGU has reached the second round for just the second time in six tournament appearances…..Entering Friday’s contest against No. 1 seed Carroll, the Lions hold a 5-5 postseason mark…..Carroll and SAGU have never played each other at the national tournament….Carroll’s Zach Taylor went over the 2000-point mark for his career during the second half against SAGU…..Zach Taylor of Carroll earned the Charles Stevenson Hustle award in 2016…. SAGU leads the nation in steals per game and total steals. They are fourth in offensive rebounds, and eighth in total rebound offense…..This was the first overtime contest of the 2017 event... Each team has played one overtime game prior to the national tournament. Carroll now 2-0 in OT games in 2016-17…..Last time the 18th game of the tournament went into overtime was in 2010 when unseeded Southern Poly State (Ga.) defeated No. 1 Mountain State (W.Va.), 93-90…..Carroll had 32 bench points to just nine from SAGU….There were 19 lead changes with 11 ties.