KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Box score;video) Fifth-seeded Southern Poly (Ga.) advanced to the second round of the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium with a 66-60 win over Cumberlands (Ky.) on Thursday morning.
Senior guard Jesse Childs and junior forward Cortez Irby shared game-high scoring honors with 15 points apiece for Southern Poly, which advances to take on LSU Shreveport on Friday, March 16 at 12:30 p.m. CDT.
"Last year it was tough, we had a senior-laden team but came in unfocused and dropped a first round game," said Southern Poly Head Coach Tommy Dillon. "But this year we have come in and worked really hard the last week-and-a-half. I'm really proud of our team of how hard we fought and we never quit."
The two teams played a very even first 20 minutes, though they struck on the offensive end in varying manners. Cumberlands tallied 24 of its 29 first-half points in the paint while six of the nine Southern Poly field goals were from beyond the arc. A 29-29 tie, with 3:12 before intermission, was broken when Benito Santiago, Jr. converted inside, followed by a free throw by Flynn Clayman with 26 seconds left to give the Patriots the slight edge.
The second half remained equally close, and the final outcome was not decided until the final moments. Cumberlands built on its halftime lead by scoring five early points to claim a 37-30 advantage. The Hornets chipped away at the deficit and reclaimed the lead at the 10:39 mark. Childs hit two pairs of free throws to complete a 9-0 run for a 53-49 Southern Poly lead with 8:07 remaining.
Cumberlands twice closed to within a point down the stretch, the second time coming on a pair of free throws by Flynn Cayman. However, Ashton Pitts and Childs hit consecutive shots to stretch the lead back to eight, and a three-pointer by Bobby Smith with 55 seconds remaining provided the six-point cushion that would hold through the end of the game.
"It was like a conference game, with two teams that were very equal, and we just could not capitalize," said University of the Cumberlands Head Coach Don Butcher. "The frustrating thing was that we got the ball down and missed some four- or five-footers. Two or three possessions between two even teams — we just couldn't handle the pressure late."
The Hornets shot just 20-of-56 (.357) for the game, but converted 11-of-25 three-point shots (.440) and posted a 15-8 edge in made free throws.
Clayman had a team-high 13 points for Cumberlands, which finishes its season with a record of 20-12. Patrico Leadon tossed in 12 points and eight rebounds for the Hornets while Steve Goins added 10 points.
Southern Poly - Southern Poly came into the national tournament ranked #1 in the NAIA in steals per game (15.0), #2 in 3-point field goals made per game (10.17) and #3 in turnover margin (+6.8) ... The Hornets feature nine regulars who average more than five points per game ... Between 12/2/11 and 1/17/12, the Hornets won 10-straight games ... This is Southern Poly's 15th tournament appearance ... The Hornets improved their first-round record to 9-6 and 11-14 overall ... Senior guard Jesse Childs has scored in double figures in four-straight games and in 13 for the season.
Cumberlands - Cumberlands is making its 21st national tournament appearance after returning to the event after missing the 2011 tournament ... The Patriots are now 13-21 all-time in the national tournament with a 9-12 record in opening round contests ... Benito Santiago, Jr., is the son of former MLB star Benito Santiago, who was the 1987 NL Rookie of the Year ... The Patriots came into the national tournament ranked #9 in the NAIA in 3-point field goal percentage (.381) with Flynn Clayman sitting 2nd individually at .476.