By Matt Bos, NAIA Media Coordinator
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - (Box Score) #10 Midland (Neb.) opened championship play with a 69-61 win over Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in the first round at the 2014 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship. The 2014 event is being played at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.
The Warriors controlled the opening tipoff, led by Ben Imig who knocked down a three-pointer which set the tone for the senior guard in the first half. A steal by Imig on Embry-Riddle’s first possession led to a coast-to-coast layup and a 5-0 lead for Midland. A slashing layup by Imig then put the Warriors ahead, 9-4, at the 17:18 mark in the first half. Two minutes later, his jump shot from the elbow was good and gave Midland an 11-5 advantage. With 10:51 to play in the half, Imig connected again from beyond the arch to pad the Midland lead at 22-14.
The Warriors extended the lead to 10 points on their next possession but the Eagles quickly swung the momentum back in their favor going on a 10-2 run over the next six minutes. Leading 26-24, Marcus Franklin hit a step-back three for the Warriors to cushion their lead to five points with 3:57 in the half. Midland and Embry-Riddle traded baskets over the remainder of the first half, before Trevor Bryant’s layup with 0.6 seconds left on the clock. He was fouled and converted the three-point play from the line to give the Warriors a 38-31 advantage heading to the locker room.
Imig kept the pressure on the Eagles, extending Midland’s lead once again to 10 points at 44-33 on a driving layup with 15:30 on the clock. The Warriors and Eagles played a physical second half on the defensive end, and Embry-Riddle stayed within striking range for much of the half. Galen Gullie hit from three-point land at the 6:49 mark to give Midland a 52-39 lead, which looked to be the dagger, but the Eagles refused to go away.
Embry Riddle went on a 15-7 run from that point capped on a three-point play by Dalton Barnes after a foul, which pulled the Eagles to within six points of the lead at 60-54 with 3:10 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Imig with under two minutes to play stretched the Midland lead back to 10 points, but again the Eagles rallied. A three-pointer by Jason Powell and a layup by Deforest Carter on back-to-back possessions made it a 64-59 game with just 40 seconds to play. Imig and Gullie went on to convert a pair of free throws each to hold off the Eagles and seal a 69-62 victory for Midland.
“I thought we had tremendous effort in the game, which stemmed from our excellent early morning preparation leading into this week,” said Midland head coach Todd Eisner. “I’m really happy with how we stayed focused defensively and limited Embry-Riddle’s opportunities. Ben [Imig] stepped up today to get us going like the tournament veteran that he is, and our entire team followed suit after his spark.”
Midland shot 48% for the game, led by Imig with 23 points and four assists. Both Franklin and Gullie chipped in 10 points each.
Embry-Riddle was led by Barnes with 14 points and Carter with 12. The Eagles shot 41% for the game but struggled to 29% from beyond the arc (6-for-21). The Eagles end the season with a 24-8 overall record.
Midland, now 27-5, will play either #7 Saint Xavier (Ill.) or Cincinnati Christian (Ohio) in a second-round match-up on Friday, March 14 at 8:30am.