KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Box score;video) High-flying Martin Methodist (Tenn.) guard James Justice does more than just dunk. His second half length-of-the-court laser whizzed by Southern Nazarene (Okla.) defenders and into the hands of a darting E.J. Kirby at the other end, showing off flair made famous by his rim-rattling throw downs. Kirby laid it up and in for two points to put the RedHawks up 75-59 at the 2:43 mark on the way to an 81-68 victory in the first round of the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship.
Martin Methodist awaits the winner between No. 11 Mountain State (W. Va.) and MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) in the second round on Friday at 8 p.m. CDT.
"We wanted to bring our 'A' game defense tonight and we did that in building our early lead," Martin Methodist head coach Andy Sharpe said. "We created and forced turnovers and then capitalized on the transition points. From that point on, it was our job to play our game and answer their scoring runs, and we did that.
"Southern Nazarene played a very tough inside game, and I was proud of how Jeremy Rogers played on the inside and the outside game of Ree McCrory and James Justice. In addition, I was pleased with our press defense tonight," Sharpe said.
Justice, who was voted into the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships to be held on March 29, finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists despite getting poked in the eye late in the first half.
The 5-foot-10 senior helped Martin Methodist race out to a 9-0 advantage, just 1:44 into the game. His 3-pointer made it 7-0 at the 18:50 mark prior to his two-pointer that capped the run on the next possession.
Justice and the rest of the RedHawks' triumvirate of stars, Ree McCrory and LaQuantis Stewart included, powered Martin Methodist to its largest lead at 40-20 with 5:15 remaining in the first half. McCrory, the team's leading scorer entering tournament play (19.7 points per game), poured in 13 of those 40 points and finished with a team-high 23 points. He was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line.
The Crimson Storm made things interesting midway through the second half, shaving the RedHawk lead all the way down to six after Ryan Aaron nailed a 3-pointer to make the score 55-49. McCrory quickly answered with a four-point play on the ensuing possession. The Martin Methodist lead hovered right around 10 until it went on an 11-2 run to put the game away and extend the lead to 77-59 with 1:57 to go.
Aaron, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, led all players with 24 points on 12-of-16 shooting. Tyrone Lyons added 16 points and eight rebounds for Southern Nazarene, which was plagued by 22 turnovers.
The RedHawk threesome of Justice, McCrory and Stewart combined for 50 points, while Rodgers chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds
Martin Methodist improved to 27-6 this season and 6-6 all-time in its seven national tournament appearances. Southern Nazarene ends its season at 22-10 overall and fell to 12-11 in 13 appearances at the National Championship.
Southern Nazarene: The Crimson Storm are making their third-straight national tournament appearance and 13th overall ... The loss gives Southern Nazarene a 12-11 overall record in the national tournament that includes a 4-8 record in opening round games ... Southern Nazarene has played in two championship games in its tournament history, winning the 1981 crown before falling in the 1998 title game ... The Crimson Storm entered the national tournament with the top-ranked 3-point field goal percentage defense (.266) and were also No. 10 in blocked shots per game (4.5) ... Junior guard Ryan Aaron matched a season high with 12 field goals made and matched the second most by a single player thus far in the national tournament.
Martin Methodist: Martin Methodist claimed its second-straight opening round victory to even its all-time tournament record at 6-6, including a 4-3 mark in first round games ... The RedHawks entered the national tournament ranked No. 3 in the NAIA in steals per game (11.5), fourth in turnover margin (+5.2) and 12th in scoring margin (+11.5) ... Senior guard Ree McCrory extended his streak of scoring 20 or more points to six-straight games and gives him 18 on the season ... The RedHawks improved to 2-1 in opening-round games as a seeded team at the national tournament.