KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Box score;video) Will Reinke and Oklahoma Christian's bid for an upset of fourth-ranked Concordia (Calif.) fell just short in the first round of the 75th Anniversary Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship. Concordia escaped, 81-74, on Thursday and earned a first-round victory for the fourth-straight season.
Concordia will play the winner between No. 13 John Brown (Ark.) and Montana Western on Friday at 2:15 p.m. CST.
"That is a really good team," Concordia head coach Ken Ammann said. "We were not real excited when we drew them, and I knew it would be a hard-fought battle to the end like it always is when we play them. We got down twice by 10 or more in the first half, and I am really proud of how our guys fought back. Our seniors played gritty today and Donnell Phifer kept us in it."
Behind Reinke's game-high 28 points, Oklahoma Christian led by as many as 10 points in the first half and held onto the lead most of the way until a Cameron Gliddon 3-pointer put Concordia ahead 66-64 at the 5:32 mark.
Oklahoma Christian responded by tying the score at 66 with a Devan White basket with 5:10 left. It then drew even twice more before taking a 72-71 lead on the strength of a pair of Reinke free throws at the 1:30 mark. A lay up from Tommy Granado nine seconds later staked Concordia to a lead it would not relinquish.
Back-to-back empty possessions for Oklahoma Christian resulted in four free throws makes for Phifer to extend the Concordia lead to five. Kendre Talley followed with a basket in the paint to close Oklahoma Christian within three points with 20 seconds left. But Concordia capitalized on all four of its free throw attempts in the final 13 seconds to salt away the victory.
Gliddon, who entered play second on the team with an average of 14.0 points per game, led Concordia with 20 points on Thursday, going 7-for-15 from the field. Granado just missed a double-double, tallying 17 points and nine rebounds.
Concordia prevailed despite allowing Oklahoma Christian to shoot 53.6 percent (30-for-56) from the field. However, Concordia held significant advantages in turnover margin (plus-10) and made nine more free throws in overcoming the 6-foot-10 Reinke's standout performance.
Reinke added eight rebounds, four blocks and four steals and shot 10-for-14 from the field.
"Will (Reinke) played a great game," Oklahoma Christian head coach Dan Hays said. "I wish we could have gotten the ball to him just a little bit more. But that was a good player fronting him. Will was terrific, maybe the best low post player that I've seen this year."
Concordia improved to 27-7 this season and 20-8 all-time in its 10 national tournament appearances. Oklahoma Christian ends its season at 20-13 overall and fell to 5-11 in 11 appearances at the National Championship.
The two teams also met in the first round of the 2009 tournament when Concordia won 70-55.
Concordia - The Eagles are making their 10th appearance in the national tournament and eighth in the last nine seasons ...The first-round victory was the fourth-straight for the Eagles, improving their opening round record to 8-2 with a 20-8 overall ledger ... Concordia has won the last three Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season championships and five of the past six ... The Eagles are one of eight teams in this year's field to have won a national championship (2003) and have appeared in three championship games ... Concordia entered the national tournament ranked No. 4 in the NAIA in scoring offense (86.2), No. 5 in free throw percentage (.735) and No. 9 in both scoring margin (12.0) and turnover margin (+4.4).
Oklahoma Christian - Oklahoma Christian entered the game on a four-game win streak, including victories over national tourney participants Rogers State (Okla.), John Brown (Ark.) and Oklahoma Baptist ... Today's loss drops the Eagles to 5-11 all-time at the national tournament and 5-6 in the opening round ... Will Reinke's 28 points tied for his second-highest output of the season ... Reinke also added a season-high four steals ... Reinke ranks in the top 20 nationally in blocks per game (2.1), rebounds (9.3) and field goal percentage (59%) ... The Eagles are the fourth member of the Sooner Athletic Conference to qualify for the national tournament, joining the three teams they defeated in the conference tournament listed above.