A large, boisterous crowd for Benedictine College grew silent Wednesday evening when the Ravens faced a 12-point deficit late in the first half against Westminster (Utah).
But that didn’t last long. Benedictine scored the last five points of the first half and the first nine points in the second half and never trailed again in its 70-65 victory in the first round of the NAIA Division I men’s basketball tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
Benedictine gave its fans, at least 3,000 strong, plenty to cheer about. It was the Ravens’ first appearance in the NAIA Tournament since 1970 and first win since 1967.
“The turnout was great. It was fun,” Benedictine coach Ryan Moody said. “We are really proud to represent Benedictine College. I think there is 44 years of angst built up because we haven’t been here in so long.
“I thought we fed off the crowd in the second half. The crowd did a great job. We are hoping they will be back Friday.”
Benedictine, 23-8, returns to action 6:15 p.m. Friday against Vanguard (Calif.), which beat Life (Ga.) 102-94 earlier Wednesday.
The turnaround by the Ravens was sudden and impressive. Benedictine was definitely in trouble when it fell behind 37-25. Nick Jenson was powering inside for baskets for Westminster, and Tallon Robertson was hitting jumpers.
A timeout by Moody defused Westminster’s hot run.
“The first half was not going our way,” Moody said. “We didn’t have to say anything too magical at halftime. We had 15 turnovers and gave up seven offensive rebounds. We gave them 22 extra possessions in the first half.”
A more-composed Benedictine team returned to the court in the final minute of the first half. A bucket in the paint by 6-foot-8 junior Jallen Messersmith followed by a three-pointer from senior Steve O’Brien gave the Ravens a spark as Benedictine sliced its deficit to 37-30.
“The run of the game might have been those last five points in the first half,” Benedictine senior forward Charlie Wallrapp said. “Going into halftime down by seven instead of 12 makes you feel a whole lot better.”
Wallrapp came out aggressive in the second half, taking the ball inside. He scored the first four points in the second half. Jonathan Anaekwe followed with a basket.
And just that quickly, Benedictine was just one point behind.
A timeout by Westminster didn’t help. The Ravens were rolling.
Wallrapp gave Benedictine its first lead since midway in the first half when he scored to make it 39-37.
“We hadn’t seen a pressure defense like that,” said Wallrapp, who finished with 19 points. “They were really in the passing lanes. It took a while for me to adjust.”
The Griffins stopped the 14-0 run on a basket by Jenson, but Benedictine scored the next four points and led the rest of the way.
Benedictine built a 50-42 lead on a basket by Messersmith, but the Ravens could never completely shake Westminster. The Griffins closed to 53-50 and then saw Benedictine stretch its advantage to 58-51.
“Honestly, we just knew what we had to do,” said Messersmith, who finished with 15 points. “We knew it was going to be a struggle and we would have to fight for it — and we fought for it.”Vanguard (Calif.) 102 Life (Ga.) 94
Vanguard never trailed in the second half, but things got interesting after the Lions built a 67-50 lead with 14 minutes, 46 seconds left.
Life closed to 84-81 with 5:52 left in the game, and the Running Eagles also drew within 89-86 on a basket in the paint by Latraius Mosley with 3:19 left.
A basket by Preston Wynne pushed Vanguard’s lead back to five, and Life never got closer than five the rest of the game.
Center Keith Mason was a big reason Vanguard built such a large lead. He finished with 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting and also pulled down 13 rebounds.Georgetown (Ky.) 97, Wayland Baptist (Texas) 90
Georgetown senior Monty Wilson finished with a game-high 39 points, and the three most important ones came with about 2 minutes left and the game tied 82-82.
Wilson drove hard to the basket and scored over Wayland Baptist junior Royal Crouch. Both hit the floor hard. Wilson needed a minute to gather himself and made the free throw.
Wilson continued to hit free throws in the final minute and helped carry Georgetown, the defending champion, into the second round.