By Aaron Sagraves, SID at Davenport University
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - (Box Score) #7 Saint Xavier (Ill.) defeated Cincinnati Christian (Ohio) 87-71 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 Cougars poured it on early against Cincinnati Christian, who was making its first ever appearance at the championship. SXU scored the first four points and eventually upped its lead to 13 after using a 10-0 spurt to lead 19-4.
"We came out playing really aggressive,” said junior Jack Krieger. “Everyone on our team played hard, even the guys off the bench. We had some key rebounds and forced some big turnovers and those are the little things that helped us get such a big lead early.”
After falling behind by as many as 16 (24-8), the Eagles used a big run of their own that covered just under five minutes of clock to cut the lead to eight at 24-16. The Cougars, however, closed out with a 20-9 run, hitting a shot at the buzzer by Brandon Marren, for a commanding 44-25 lead.
The lead for Saint Xavier looked to be more than enough but Cincinnati Christian used an 8-0 run to get within 10 at 54-44 with just over 10 minutes to play, forcing a Cougars timeout.
A quick 4-0 spurt out of the timeout by SXU upped their lead back to 14 but the Eagles would not go away and scored 12 of the next 13 to bring the margin down to just four (61-57) with 5:52 to play. The run however was just not enough as Saint Xavier connected on its free-throws down the stretch, including a perfect 15-15 from Michael Simpson to preserve the opening round win 87-71.
“I thought Cincinnati Christian was really aggressive down low and on the offensive glass and definitely showed why they are down here at the National Championship,” said SXU head coach Tom O’Malley. “I'm proud of our team for keeping it together and finishing the game strong."
The 15 made free-throws by Simpson is the ninth most in tournament history. The 34 made by the Cougars is the sixth most ever at the tournament.
Saint Xavier finished the day shooting 42.1% from the field as they were led by Jack Krieger with 22 points. Also finding double-figures for the Cougars was Simpson with 19 and Karp with 15.
The Eagles were led by Michael Hill with 19 points as they finished the game shooting 50.9%. They finish the season with a 19-14 record.
Saint Xavier (30-4) moves on to the second round where they will face Midland University (Neb.) in the first game on Friday at 8:30 a.m. CDT.