Story by Alan Grosbach, NAIA Staff
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) Fueled by strong outside shooting, No. 7 Talladega (Ala.) won its first-ever game at the national championship with an 88-71 victory against Evangel (Mo.) Thursday afternoon in First Round action at the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship in Municipal Auditorium. The Tornadoes will face No. 10 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), which knocked off Montana State-Northern earlier in the day, on Friday at 2:15 p.m. CDT.
Talladega was dominant from three-point range, converting 12-of-22 attempts (54.5 percent). The Tornadoes three-point total is the second-highest output in the First Round of this year’s event, trailing only Cumberlands’ (Ky.) 13 three-pointers on Wednesday against Rocky Mountain (Mont.). Talladega ended the night shooting 54.5 percent from the field (30-for-55).
The two teams played a nearly identical first half with each team shooting greater than 43 percent from the field en route to a 33-33 tie at the break.
The Tornadoes opened the second stanza with a 14-2 run, capped by a three-pointer from the wing by Charles Winborne to push their lead out to 46-35 with 16:03 remaining. Three-straight buckets by Evangel cut the deficit to 46-41, however a Jacobey Ross steal-and-score halted the Crusaders’ momentum.
Winborne struck again with another three-pointer with 10 minutes left, which sparked a 12-4 run by the Tornadoes to make it a 68-52 Talladega advantage. Evangel never came closer than nine points the rest of the way – 75-66 with 2:39 remaining – as the Tornadoes continued to consistently add to their lead with free throws down the stretch.
“I told Coach (Steve) Jenkins before the game, win or lose, it was a victory in my book because I had the opportunity to coach against a great man and legend,” said Talladega head coach Matt Cross. “In the first half, we were slow getting the ball up the floor. I think we picked it up defensively in the second half, got more rebounds and were able to get out and play in transition. That’s what we’re best at.”
Winborne, who entered the national championship second on the team in points per game (15.0), led all scorers with a season-high 38 points – the second-most points scored through 12 games. The junior guard was 11-for-16 from the floor, including an 8-for-12 effort from 3-point range. Winborne was joined in double-digits by Brandon Peters (21 points) and Elijah Jones (10 points).
Defensively, Talladega forced 13 Evangel turnovers, which led to a 19-5 advantage in points off turnovers.
“We gave up a couple of run-outs in the first half, otherwise we had a first half pretty close to what we wanted, but we had a hard time figuring out their defense,” said Evangel head coach Steve Jenkins, who was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame earlier this week. “I thought our guys gave a great effort and gave us a chance.”
Evangel shot 39.7 percent (27-for-68) from the field, but was limited to only 24.1 percent (7-for-29) shooting from 3-point range. Four Crusaders scored in double-digits, led by Zack Kleine’s 20 points.
Evangel, which had previously won three-straight first round contests, finishes the season with a 23-11 record.
Talladega– Held Evangel to 24.1 percent from beyond the arc, the Crusaders entered the tournament 12th in 3-point percentage (37.7). … Eighth time this season Talladega has converted 10 or more 3-pointers with their 12 3-pointers two off their season high. … With 10 FGs, eight 3-pointers and eight FTs, Charles Winborne's 38 points stands as the second-most individual points scored through 12 games. … Held a 19-5 advantage in points of turnovers while forcing Evangel into 13 turnovers.
Evangel – Led Talladega, 34-28, in points in the paint … Seven made 3-pointers right at season average. … Opening round loss snaps a three-year streak dating back to their second appearance at the Div. I tournament during 2011. … With 20 points, Zack Kliene reaches double figures in scoring for the 33rd time in 34 games. It was the 22nd time he scored over 20 points. … Evangel outrebounded Talladega 40-27, which included 16 offensive rebounds which translated to a 12-5 advantage in second-chance points.