By Eric Montgomery, NAIA Staff
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) No. 11-seeded Benedictine (Kan.) overcame a 12-point deficit in the first half and claimed a 70-65 win over Westminster (Utah), Wednesday evening in the first round of the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship in Municipal Auditorium. The Ravens will take on sixth-seeded Vanguard (Calif.) on Friday at 6:15 p.m.
Charlie Wallrapp scored a game-high 19 points, 17 in the second half, and grabbed eight rebounds for Benedictine, while Jallen Messersmith came off the bench to record 15 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. The Ravens shot 47.1 percent from the field for the game and made 13-of-18 free throws in the second half to finish 17-of-24 from the foul line.
“I thought our guys fed off the crowd and this was a big win,” said Benedictine head coach Ryan Moody, whose team was bolstered by a student section that filled the north end of the lower level. “You can see from the celebration in our guys. I’m not sure that’s so much because it’s the game or because that could be the first time we won after we trailed at half. To come back from seven down at the half, you can see the emotion in the guys that it was a hard-fought battle and that was a really good team we beat out there tonight.”
Westminster was in control the majority of the first half thanks to a pressure defense that forced Benedictine into 14 turnovers. The Griffins used a 12-2 run over 3:47 to stretch a two-point advantage into a 37-25 lead with 1:31 until the half.
Benedictine (23-8) scored the final five points of the first half, a momentum swing that carried over into the second half. The Ravens scored the first nine points of the second half to complete a 14-0 run over both halves to take their first lead since the 8:27 mark of the first half.
Westminster ended its scoring drought with a basket by Nick Jenson, only to see Benedictine run off seven-consecutive points for their biggest lead of the game, 50-42. Though the Ravens led the rest of the game, a basket by Messersmith with 30 seconds remaining provided a five-point advantage that was enough to secure the win.
“They were the aggressors coming out of halftime and they got us on our heels,” said Westminster head coach Adam Hiatt. "We went from up seven to down seven in what seemed like a flash. We weren’t ready for that initial full-court pressure that they gave us.”
Jenson and Tallon Robertson led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points for Westminster with the duo combining for 10 rebounds and four steals. Colton Moon, Blake Skidmore and Jordan Pryor each chipped in with 10 points for the Griffins, who were held to 39.7 percent shooting for the game that included a 29.6 percent clip (8 of 27) in the second half.
Westminster finishes its season with a record of 19-13.
Benedictine– The Ravens improved to 13-6 all-time in the championships, making their first appearance in the Division I tournament since a first round loss in 1970 … Benedictine has won two national championships (1954, 1967) … The Ravens ranked #4 in NAIA Division I in three-point percentage (.409), but was held to 31.3 percent from beyond the arc … Messersmith ranks #3 in NAIA Division I in blocked shots per game (2.6).
Westminster – The Griffins fell to 4-12 all-time in the national championship, including a 3-9 mark in first round games … Westminster had won its two previous first round games (2009, 2010) with its last first-round loss coming in 2007 … Robertson ranked #7 in NAIA Division I in field goal percentage (.568), but was held to 45.5 percent shooting (5 of 11).