By Eric Montgomery | NAIA Staff
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) (Video Highlights) No. 8-seeded Emmanuel (Ga.) held off MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.), 76-72, Monday evening in the semifinal round of the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Championshipin Municipal Auditorium. The Lions will face No. 6-seeded Vanguard (Calif.), a 108-88 winner over St. Gregory’s (Okla.) in the championship game on Tuesday, March 25 at 7:02 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.com. Click here for information to access to ESPN3.
The Lions (33-3) advance to their first-ever national championship game after losing in the first round of the team’s previous three tournament appearances. The Pioneers (26-11) lost in the Fab Four for the second time, falling to Columbia (Mo.) in the 2009 semifinal round, 60-56.
Patrick McCrary hit three of four free throws in the final 14 seconds to hold off a second-half charge by the Pioneers. The Lions held a 67-59 lead with 5:20 to play, but MNU evened the score at 70-70 on a lay-up by Nick Syrie with 2:27 remaining.
McCrary put Emmanuel back on top with a putback on the next possession, followed by a free throw by Adrian Justice after an offensive foul was called on the Pioneers’ Nick Syrie. Conner Langrehr missed a three-pointer on the next possession, but Michael Stanley turned the ball over with 1:02 to play. MNU cut it to one with 15 seconds to play on a bucket by Nate Launius, prompting a foul on McCrary.
MNU had a chance to go ahead trailing by two after McCrary made one of his two attempts at the line, but Langrehr missed a three-pointer and McCrary put the game away with two more free throws.
“I’m sorry someone had to lose tonight,” said Emmanuel head coach TJ Rosene. “Their fans were so good. Their guys are so classy. I’m glad that we won, but sorry that they had to lose. But, we’re excited to be (in the national championship game).”
The Emmanuel defense was the story in the first half, limiting MNU to 10 of 29 shooting (.345) and forcing nine turnovers. The Pioneers missed their first eight field goal attempts and were unable to connect from the field until David Clark recorded a successful putback at the 14:48 mark.
The Lions scored 12 points off turnovers in the opening twenty minutes, including a steal by Adrian Justice that set up a lay-up by Michael Stanley for a 27-19 lead with 4:47 to go until halftime. Emmanuel would hold a 10-point cushion with 1:32 until intermission, but David Clark and Nick Syrie scored on the final two possessions of the half for MNU, respectively, for a six-point margin.
Michael Stanley led all scorers with 20 points to go along with nine rebounds and four steals for Emmanuel, hitting 10 of 13 free throws to spearhead a 24 of 30 effort (.800) at the line for the Lions. McCrary finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, Justice chipped in with 12 points, and Johan Pennerat added 10 points.
“I’m so proud of my seniors,” said MNU head coach Rocky Lamar, who coached in his sixth Fab Four game with four of those games coming when the Pioneers competed in NAIA Division II. “Luke Thomas didn’t want it to end, and Conner Langrehr…I thought that last shot was in. We knew he’d shoot it if he touched it and we’ll take that chance every time.”
Syrie finished with 17 points and seven assists for MNU, which shot 58.6 percent (17 of 29) from the field in the second half. Luke Thomas recorded 15 points and 17 rebounds, while Langrehr and David Clark each chipped in with 11 points. Brandon Newton scored all 10 of his points at the free throw line for the Pioneers.
Emmanuel– The Lions improved to 4-3 all-time in the national championship after going winless in their previous three tournament appearances (2008, 2011, 2013) … Emmanuel is the first team from the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) to reach the title game since Faulkner (Ala.) in 2001 … The Lions have led at the half in all four games in the tournament … Michael Stanley has scored at least 20 points in five-straight games that includes all four games in the national championship … The Lions are the first No. 8 seed to advance to the finals since Mobile (Ala.) in 1999.
MidAmerica Nazarene– Luke Thomas recorded his NAIA-leading 30th double-double of the season, posting a double-double in all four tournament games and 11-straight games to finish the season … The Pioneers fell to 8-4 all-time in the Division I national championship in four appearances after posting a 23-12 mark in 13 trips to the NAIA Division II National Championship … MNU finished the season winning 17 of its final 21 games after starting the season 9-7 … Thomas finished his career with averages of 16.0 points and 11.9 rebounds in eight games in the national championship.