KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Box; video) Second-seeded Oklahoma Baptist battled back from a 10-point second-half deficit and defeated Belhaven (Miss.), 68-62, Wednesday evening in the opening round of the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium.
"Belhaven came in 16-16, but that's a good ball team," said Oklahoma Baptist Coach Doug Tolin. "We didn't look like ourselves. I don't know if it was sitting around all day or what. The last seven minutes, we looked like ourselves. I'm just happy we have a schedule for tomorrow."
Senior guard Emmanuel Wilson led all scorers with 22 points for the Bison, who improved to 29-4 on the season and will take on Columbia (Mo.) on Friday at 6:15 p.m. CDT. Heath McKay hit 4-of-8 three-pointers and finished with 16 points, while Derick Echols chipped in with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
With a single field goal separating the teams at halftime, the Oklahoma Baptist lead was a single point early in the second half when Belhaven seized the advantage with a 7-0 run to take a 38-32 lead. Though the advantage was cut to two on several occasions, the Blazers held the lead throughout most of the half.
A 10-point cushion with 7:37 to play proved to be the turning point after a Belhaven timeout. Oklahoma Baptist senior guard Emmanuel Wilson hit back-to-back three-pointers, then Jacobi Isham had consecutive field goals to cut the deficit to a single point. The surge continued for the Bison as Heath McKay and Wilson hit back-to-back triples to turn the 10-point deficit into a 63-58 lead with 1:11 remaining.
Woodie Howard went to the line on the next trip down for Belhaven and hit a pair of free throws. Jordan Butts followed that up with a steal, giving the Blazers a chance to tie with 31.5 seconds to play. However, Chris Cofield was called for an offensive foul with 19 seconds remaining and the Bison made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to hold on for the victory.
Oklahoma Baptist finished the game 11-of-27 (.407) from three-point range, posting the highest single-game total of any Belhaven opponent this season. The Bison also controlled the glass with a 35-26 advantage that included 14 offensive rebounds.
"Our guys practiced so well and played so hard for the last three weeks getting ready for this tournament," said Belhaven head coach Tom Kelsey. "Our seniors Daryl Arnold, Woodie Howard, and Brittion Smith; they got our guys focused and we played really hard and believed good things could happen. Oklahoma Baptist is a great team and they are where they are for a reason."
Senior forward Daryl Arnold had 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting to pace Belhaven, which concluded its season with a record of 16-17. Brittion Smith tossed in 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Cofield had 11 points and Jordan Butts tallied 10 points.
Oklahoma Baptist - The Bison are the #2 seed in the national tournament for the second time in the last four seasons, defeating Life (Ga.) in the opening round of the 2009 event the last time the Bison were seeded second ... Oklahoma Baptist is making its 25th appearance at the national tournament and 12th in a row ... The Bison improved to 55-21 all-time in the national tournament and 21-4 in opening round contests ... The #2-seeded team is 16-1 in the opening round since the 1995 tournament when Life (Ga.) lost in the first round.
Belhaven - The Blazers are making their 3rd appearance in the national tournament and second in three seasons after ending a 38-year drought in 2010 ... Belhaven fell to 1-2 all-time in the national tournament after losing in the opening round for the second time in three seasons ... Belhaven entered the game ranked #9 in the NAIA in 3-point field goal defense (.293) ... Senior forward Daryl Arnold has scored in double figures in 25 of his team's 33 games this season and 34 times in his career at Belhaven.