Pioneers Outlast Cougars in Rematch of 2009 Semifinals, 80-75
The second round game, which was part of an evening session that saw a record 6,325 fans come into the famed auditorium, paired up NAIA Hall of Fame coaches Bob Burchard (Columbia) and Rocky Lamar (MidAmerica Nazarene), whose teams met in the 2009 Fab Four with the Cougars posting a 60-56 triumph in that contest. Lamar, a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee, would avenge that defeat in a game that was not decided until the final minutes.
The Pioneers (25-10) seized the first significant advantage of the game with an 8-0 run around the midway point of the first half. Brandon Newton hit two free throws to start the spurt, while Luke Thomas finished it off with a basket to put the Pioneers on top, 21-14. The seven-point lead was still intact with 3:17 until halftime, but three-straight treys capped a 15-3 run that gave Columbia a 37-32 advantage at the break.
Columbia was able to add a point to its advantage in the early moments of the second half and led by six after a bucket by Devin Griffin. However, MidAmerica Nazarene turned the game back in its favor with a 14-5 run over the next 5:28 to take a 54-51 lead. Griffin tied the game up on a three-point play at the 8:44 mark, one of four ties in the latter stages of the game.
The momentum went back to the Pioneers as a three-point play by Brandon Newton gave them their biggest lead, 74-66, with 2:18 to play. Griffin hit two 3-pointers late to get the Cougars within two points with 22 seconds left, but the Pioneers hit 3-of-4 free throws.
“I thought we were a selfish basketball team in the first half,” said Lamar, whose team advanced to its second-straight quarterfinal round. “In the second half, we decided to guard and we were able to run much better than the first half.”
Thomas led the way for the Pioneers with 18 points, 18 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots as he hit 10-of-12 free throws. Four other Pioneers added double figures in scoring, led by Nate Launius with 16 points. Newton and Conner Langrehr added 13 points apiece, while Justin Randall posted 10 points.
“We’ve got a long history between our two squads, one that goes back about 26 years,” said Burchard, a 2012 inductee. “This is the second year in a row we’ve gone against the No. 1 scoring team in the nation and again it just didn’t go our way. We had a lot of heart but their size and our foul trouble really hurt us late.”
Griffin led all scorers with 26 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists for the Cougars. Derrick Dilworth added 14 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Gerardo Isla chipped in with 12 points. Jeremy Nolen also recorded 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
Columbia finishes its season with a record of 32-3.
MidAmerica Nazarene – The Pioneers advanced to the quarterfinal round for the third time and is unbeaten (3-0) in the second round … Luke Thomas recorded his NAIA-leading 28th double-double and has scored in double figures in 32 of his team’s 35 games this season … Thomas has grabbed an average of 14.7 rebounds in seven career games in the National Championship … MNU, which came into the game shooting an NAIA-best 52.4 percent from the field, was held under 40 percent for just the third time this season.
Columbia – The Cougars had a 16-game winning streak snapped with the loss and falls to 3-4 all-time in the national championship second round … Griffin matched his career-high with 26 points, set against Park (Mo.) on Feb. 6 … The Cougars had four players reach double figures in scoring for the third-straight game … Griffin scored in double figures in 32 of 35 games this season.