LSU Alexandria’s Bryan Sylvester and Brandon Moss are seldom seen on the court at the same time.
Sylvester, a 6-foot-9 forward, starts, and Moss, who is 6-8 and the Generals’ leading scorer, comes off the bench in a system that has helped the Generals to the No. 1 seed in the NAIA national basketball tournament and a spotless 33-0 record.
But when LSU Alexandria couldn’t shake a pesky Westmont (Cal.) College in an NAIA second-round game, Sylvester and Moss found themselves together with about five minutes to play and propelled the Generals to an 81-61 victory on Friday at Municipal Auditorium.
With the win, LSU Alexandria, in just its third year as an NAIA Division I program, advanced to a quarterfinal against Pikeville (Ky.) at 5:30 Saturday.
“We are the closers … we’re twins,” Moss said of the pair that each scored six points in a 12-2 run that expanded a 64-53 lead to an insurmountable 72-55 advantage with 2:36 to play.
“Coach told us to go in, take over, control the paint, and that’s what we do when we get in together,” said Moss, who finished with 13 points, to go along with Sylvester’s 12 and 6-10 center Gilbert Talbot’s 17 points and 13 rebounds.
“They’re two special players,” Generals coach Larry Cordaro said of Moss and Sylvester. “And to have them on one team is truly a blessing. Those guys are gifted and play well off each other.
“But Gilbert Talbot and (6-11) William Claiborne are so big, and good at what they do, sometimes it’s hard to play (Sylvester and Moss) at the same time.”
Until the closers came in, the Generals rode the big shoulders of Talbot, who capitalized on a size advantage against the Warriors, 25-8. Talbot made eight of 10 shots from the field with a soft inside touch and helped LSU Alexander to a 38-21 rebounding advantage.
“The good thing about our team is we have so many weapons, so when one of us gets going, another one of us can get going,” Talbot said. “You never know where we’re going to hit you from. I kind of got going in the first half, and they were able to close it out.”
The Generals trailed 26-20 with 5 minutes to play in the first half as Westmont threatened to pull the upset.
But LSU Alexandria, which led just 35-33 at halftime, scored the first six points of the second half and took one more step toward becoming only the third undefeated champion in NAIA history and first since Oklahoma City in 1992.
Westmont coach John Moore, whose club was the NAIA runner-up in 2015, believes LSU Alexandria is capable of running the table.
“I think they can,” Moore said. “They execute well, he’s a whale of a coach. I thought we had them on the ropes a little bit. I thought we had them flustered in the first half … but they have all the pieces.”
Pikeville (Ky.) 56, Columbia (Mo.) College 51: Trey Rakes and Michael Lewis each made two free throws in the final 11 seconds and the Bears held off the Cougars. Columbia, which ended its season at 27-6, was down 30-21 at the half but outscored the Bears 30-26 in the second half. Nathan Biggs led the Cougars with 12 points and seven rebounds. Columbia made just 17 of 59 field goals (28.8 percent), including 4 of 22 three-pointers (18.2 percent).
William Penn (Iowa) 87, Georgetown (Ky.) College 79: Former Missouri player Torren Jones scored 36 points on 13-of-17 shooting, including 2 of 3 on three-pointers, and had 11 rebounds as the Heart of America champion defeated the 2016 NAIA tournament runner-up.
Langston (Okla.) 84, Dillard 74: The No. 6-seeded Lions recorded their second straight upset and reached the quarterfinals for the first time in school history. Langston’s Michael Harris hit 10 of 14 shots off the bench for 25 points and Daryle Morgan Jr. contributed 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Life (Ga.) 80, Hope (Calif.) 78: Dalarian Williams and Jonathan Beausejour each scored 20 points and combined for 12 rebounds in the Eagles’ come-from-behind victory. Life advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2000, when Life won the most recent of three national titles.
Carroll (Mont.) College 87, SAGU (Texas) 80, OT: Ife Kalejaiye scored 19 points, while Match Burnham came off the bench and added 18, including four three-point baskets, as the Fighting Saints advanced to a quarterfinal game with Life.
Texas Wesleyan 77, The Masters (Calif.) 75: Texas Wesleyan survived this battle that was close throughout. Najeal Young had 21 points and nine rebounds for Texas Wesleyan, and Ryan Harris added 19 points and six rebounds. The Masters had reached the second round with their victory on Thursday over Benedictine.
Dalton State (Ga.) 79, Montana Western 60: Dalton State, a No. 1 seed, followed up its two-point win over eighth-seeded Harris Stowe State (Mo.) on Thursday with Friday night’s blowout victory over No. 4 seed Montana Western that gets the Roadrunners into the quarterfinals. Reed Dungan scored 19 points for Dalton State, which will face Texas Wesleyan.