MidAmerica Nazarene Holds Off Pikeville, 78-70
“It (the victory) is surreal,” said MidAmerica Nazarene head coach John Lewis. “It means that you’ve got a lot of good players that have bought into the system. All the praise goes to them.”
The Pioneers, who in four previous trips had never advanced beyond the second round, will play Heart of America Athletic Conference (Heart) rival and sixth-seed Baker (Kan.) tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. CDT. The contest, which will be delivered live on ESPN3, is a rematch of the 2016 Heart Tournament championship – a game won by MidAmerica Nazarene, 53-41.
Similar to the first game of the night, it was a strong first half by the Pioneers that proved the difference in the game.
MidAmerica Nazarene, which entered the game shooting 40.8 percent from the field at the national championship, scorched the nets in the opening 20 minutes. The Pioneers opened the game with a 12-0 run, capped by a pair of free throws by Bailey Rinehardt.
Back-to-back buckets by Pikeville cut the deficit to 12-5, however the single-digit spread was short lived, as MidAmerica Nazarene scored on its next three possessions. The Pioneers first half lead hit its peak at 19 points – 30-11 with 5:04 left in the second quarter – on a Kyleesha Weston jumper in the lane.
Overall, MidAmerica Nazarene shot 60 percent from the field (15-for-25), including a 50 percent (3-for-6) clip from long range. Seven of the nine Pioneers that saw action in the opening 20 minutes scored at least three points, led by Tristin Wicks’ 10. The sophomore forward also had a then-game-high seven boards.
The second half was a little bit of a different story, as Pikeville – the NAIA’s second-best scoring offense, averaging better than 82 points per game – did not go quietly. The Bears chipped away at the deficit until a 3-pointer by Kelah Eldridge made it single digits – 51-42 – with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
The offensive surge by Pikeville continued into the four, as the Bears opened the fourth frame with a 6-0 run – all coming from Kandice Porter – to make it 56-52. Despite their best efforts, the four-point margin would be as close as the Bears would come.
All five of MidAmerica Nazarene’s starters scored in double figures, including a team-high 16 points by Weston and Wicks. Wicks also chipped in 11 rebounds to record her third double-double of the season – first since tallying 18 points and 14 rebounds against Peru State (Neb.) on Feb. 10.
Another notable performance was by senior guard Megan Balcom, who scored 12 points and tallied seven assists. The assist total nearly doubles her amount from the previous three tournament games she played in.
As a team, the Pioneers finished the night shooting 49.0 percent (25-of-51) from the field, 50 percent (7-for-14) from 3-point range and 58.3 percent (21-of-36) at the foul line. Additionally, MidAmerica Nazarene was dominant on the glass, holding a 46-28 advantage in rebounding.
Eldridge and Porter were the bright spots offensively for a Pikeville team that only shot 37.5 percent (24-for-64) from the floor. Eldridge finished with a game-high 19 points – two points shy of tying a season-high – while Porter notched 17 points, respectively. Aundrea Matchen was the other Bear in double-digits with 12 points.
Pikeville ends the year with a 26-9 record and is now 3-4 all-time at the national championship. Prior to 2016, the Bears were winless in three trips to the event.
For more information on the national championship, click here.