By Matt Bos, NAIA Media Coordinator
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – (Box Score) No. 10 Midland University saw its nine-point halftime lead disappear over the final minutes of Saturday’s quarterfinal, only to storm back and close out a 76-70 victory over Bethel (Ind.). With the win, the Warriors advance to the Fab Four of the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball National Championship for the first time in school history.
“We looked a little tired in the second half today as we struggled with our offensive efficiency, but you have to credit our spirit and toughness,” said head coach Todd Eisner. “I just wanted us to go out and play loose, which we did early on, and not worry about the size of the stage. That’s what our guys did, and now we get rewarded with a trip to the semifinals.”
The Warriors started out hot from beyond the arc and built a 6-0 lead after two minutes with buckets from Galen Gullie and Marcus Franklin. Bethel guard Zach Miller was good from downtown as well and cut the deficit to 8-7 at the 15:27 mark.
Again with a one-point lead, Ben Imig took over for Midland, scoring 11 consecutive points, hitting from deep on three straight possessions, to give the Warriors a 21-9 cushion. With 5:43 remaining in the half, Imig connected from three-point land once again to build a 17-point Midland lead. The Pilots responded with a three-pointer from Landon Booker which sparked a 10-point run, eventually cutting their deficit to 41-32 at the break. Imig scored 18 points in the first half for Midland.
After stretching the lead back to 12 points on an Alex Starkel hook shot early in the second half, the Warriors found themselves on their heels over the next four minutes. A three-pointer by Matt Schauss pulled Bethel to within one, and a pair of Michael Mislan free throws at the 13:48 mark gave the Pilots their first lead of the game, 49-48. Bethel then found themselves on top, 59-53, after Schauss converted the old fashion three-point play with 10 minutes left in the game.
The two teams battled for the remainder of the second half, trading shots to recapture leads for their respective sides. Starkel stepped up late for the Warriors and put them back on top, 67-66, after a layup with 2:49 left to play. He then converted a three-point play to pad Midland’s lead to 70-66 with 47 seconds to go. Gullie sank four free throw attempts, for the second straight day, to seal the victory for the Warriors and send them to the Fab Four.
Both teams shot just 40 percent and had 38 rebounds but Midland went 9-18 from three-point territory and the Pilots went 7-for-21 (33%).
Bethel was led by Miller with 17 points while both Mislan and Schauss scored 13. The Pilots close the season with a 28-8 record.
Imig had a game-high 22 points, followed by Gullie with 17 for Midland. Franklin contributed 12 points in the win, and Starkel recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.