Late Free Throws Lift Evangels Over Pirates, 88-86
Story by NAIA Office
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) No. 4-seeded Mid-America Christian (Okla.) hit three free throws in the final 12 seconds to hold off No. 5-seeded Park (Mo.), 88-86, in the first round of the 2016 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship. The Evangels will take on No. 1-seeded Biola (Calif.) on Friday, March 18 at 10:45 a.m. CDT.
The last of 13 lead changes in the game occurred with 1:00 to play when the Pirates’ Mylin Jordan hit two free throws to level the teams at 83-83. Chris Runnels scored on a putback for the Evangels with 46 seconds left, giving his team the lead for good, the last of eight lead changes in the game.
Following a free throw by Jordan with 14 seconds left, Devonse Reed hit two from the stripe to push the Evangels lead to three. BJ Watson scored in the lane with nine seconds to play, followed by a free throw by Bryon Miller for Mid-America Christian with 4.1 seconds left for a two-point cushion. Park pushed the ball up the court, but was unable to get a shot off as time expired.
“This was a crazy game played by two very good teams,” said Mid-America Christian head coach Josh Gamblin. “Give credit to Park for the way they played and for being a well-coached team. I thought this game would be won by the team with the last possession, and we came through with some big free throws down the stretch.”
The first half played out much like the end of the game with each team taking turns in the driver’s seat. Mid-America Christian held an early 10-5 advantage, but Park quickly tied the game up and led by as much as five in the opening stanza. The Evangels owned the last surge of the half, getting back-to-back buckets from Reed and Exzavia Seaton to help pave the way to a 42-40 halftime cushion.
“No one play cost us in this game, and we gave ourselves a chance,” said Park head coach Jason Kline. “That’s all you can ask for in this building, on this stage. To have a chance. We had our chances, and we made our mistakes. So did they, and you have to hand it to (Mid-America Christian). They just got us. It was a great game.”
The two teams had similar statistical numbers at the game’s conclusion, with Mid-America Christian holding a 28-26 edge in made field goals, while Park hit 29 free throws to 26 for the Evangels. Each team collected 43 rebounds, with Mid-America Christian forcing two more turnovers (14-12) and recording one additional blocked shot (5-4).
Bryon Miller led all scorers with 26 points to go along with eight rebounds for the Evangels, while Reed finished with 23 points. Chris Runnels added 12 points and a game-best 15 rebounds for Mid-America Christian. Watson led five Park players in double figures with 21 points to pair with five assists, while Jordan chipped in 19 points and Levi Mitchell recorded 17 points and seven rebounds.
Park finishes its season with a record of 20-10.
Mid-America Christian – The Evangels improved to 9-6 this season against teams in the National Championship field … Mid-America Christian won its second-straight first round game in the program’s two all-time appearances … The Evangels defeated a team from Missouri for the second-straight tournament, posting a 81-72 win over Missouri Valley in the 2015 second round … Mid-America Christian has topped 80 points in three of its four tournament games in program history.
Park – The Pirates fell to 5-6 all-time in the National Championship and 3-3 in the first round … Park scored 80 or more points in seven of the team’s 10 losses during the season … The Pirates fell to 4-3 in games decided by three points or less in 2015-16 … Jordan scored in double figures in 21 games this season, all in a reserve role.