By Eric Montgomery, NAIA Staff
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) In one of the most thrilling games thus far at the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, St. Catharine (Ky.) scored the biggest upset of the opening two days thus far after earning a 99-97 win over No. 5-seeded SAGU (Texas) on Thursday evening in Municipal Auditorium. The Patriots will face the winner of No. 12 Xavier (La.) and Hope International (Calif.) on Friday at 9:45 p.m. CDT.
St. Catharine survived a last-second attempt by SAGU guard Dominique Rambo, who rebounded a missed free throw by Julito Hutchinson with 4.3 seconds to play, but was unable to get off a credible attempt at a game-winner. The Patriots missed four of six free throws in the final 15 seconds, but the Lions were unable to take advantage of a turnover after Caleb Feemster made two free throws to pull SAGU within two.
The Patriots led by as much as 12 points with 5:33 remaining in the second half, but the Lions stayed within reach down the stretch. Trailing by eight with 1:42 left, Rambo drove to the basket for a two, followed by a jumper by Jonathan Walter off of a steal by Caleb Gentry pulled SAGU within four at the 1:25 mark. The teams traded turnovers before Taron Franklin missed two free throws to set up the dramatic ending.
St. Catharine was nearly unstoppable in the first half, shooting 21 of 30 (.700) from the field that included seven of nine three-point shots. The Lions, however, trailed by just 10 at the half after hitting 15-of-18 free throws and forcing 16 turnovers. The Patriots committed 33 giveaways in the game that were turned into 35 points for the Lions.
Six players scored in double figures for the Patriots, led by Raymon Austin with 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Omar Skinner delivered 13 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and five steals for St. Catharine, while Hutchinson and William Tolefree also had 13 points and combined for 11 rebounds. Eight players had at least eight points with William Bailey (12) and Chris Johnson (10) also reaching double figures.
“I knew they were going to make a run, it just happened to come too late,” said St. Catharine head coach J.T. Burton. “I told our kids to just keep driving the ball and find our way to the line.”
Walter hit 10-of-16 from the field and finished with a game-high 28 points for SAGU, which finished the game 5-for-26 from three-point range (.192) and 42.1 percent from the field overall. Rambo added 20 points, four assists and five steals, Gentry posted 15 points and four steals, while Feemster tossed in 16 points and eight rebounds.
The Patriots dominated play on the glass, claiming a 47-27 rebounding advantage, though both teams had 12 offensive rebounds. St. Catharine hit 25-of-35 free throws in the second half despite the struggles in the final two minutes of the contest.
“Few teams in the country would have given themselves a chance at the end like our guys,” said SAGU head coach Donnie Bostwick. "This team is the greatest bunch of overachievers I have ever coached. Like John Wooden said of good teams, ‘You never lose, you just run out of time.’”
SAGU, the 2013 Division I national runner-up, finishes its season with a record of 26-6.
St. Catharine – The Patriots earned their first-ever win at the tournament after losing its previous first round game in the 2011 event to Lindenwood (Mo.) … The St. Catharine bench had three players in double figures as the Patriots’ reserves outscored their counterparts, 43-15 … Austin and Skinner became the third pair of teammates to record double-doubles in the same game in the first round of the 2014 tournament.
SAGU – The Lions fell to 4-3 all time in the National Championship and 1-2 in first round games … SAGU is the second-straight No. 5 seed to lose in the first round (Lewis-Clark State) … The 33 forced turnovers is a tournament-high through 33 games … The Lions were held to five three-pointers after ranking No. 4 in NAIA Division I with an average of 10.1 per game.