At 5 feet 8, Montana Western senior guard Stephen McCall was the shortest player on the court Wednesday, but he had the biggest impact. His 36 points helped end Benedictine’s season in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The Bulldogs led all but one possession in the second half of an 80-77 victory over Benedictine at Municipal Auditorium.
“When we went into the game, that was clearly the worst matchup for us,” Benedictine coach Ryan Moody said. “A guy that small, that shifty, that fast is tough, and they had a great plan against our zone.
“They hit a few threes and so we get worried about the three-point line and our gaps got bigger. He is a special player.”
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Benedictine, which held a 14-point lead midway through the first half, finished the season 24-9.
“They came out really strong,” said McCall, who made all 15 of his free throws. “That is a great team over there. They have some tough guys. We kept competing.”
If the Ravens had an answer for McCall, they might have advanced to the second round to play No. 1 seed Hope International (Calif.) at 6:15 p.m. Friday. Instead, unseeded Montana Western has that task.
“That’s what this tournament is about, taking on the big dogs,” McCall said. “Hope is a great program. We are looking forward to that test.”
The problems Benedictine had with McCall started early in the second half. He used his quickness for a two-point field goal and then hit a guarded three-pointer for a 55-48 lead.
After Benedictine pulled within 64-62, McCall made a basket for a four-point lead. That was how much of the second half played out.
Benedictine closed to 71-70, but McCall kept his team in front with two free throws. After the Bulldogs stopped Benedictine, McCall made another field goal, increasing Montana Western’s lead to 75-70 with fewer than 2 minutes left.
In the opening 10 minutes, it looked as if Benedictine was going to blow out the Bulldogs. Senior Brett Fisher nailed three three-pointers from beyond NBA range as the Ravens built a 29-14 lead.
Montana Western answered with a 20-2 run for a 34-31 lead.
Wednesday’s other men’s games
▪ EVANGEL (MO.) 67, WAYLAND BAPTIST (TEXAS) 66: Evangel survived two shot attempts by No. 11 seed Wayland Baptist in the final 2 seconds and held on for a one-point win.
Evangel had a 57-38 lead with 10:20 left in the game before Wayland Baptist went on a 16-2 run and closed to 59-54 with 4:36 left.
Senior forward Brodie Wingert led Evangel with 20 points, and senior forward Korry Tillery pulled down 20 rebounds for the Crusaders.
▪ HOPE INTERNATIONAL (CALIF.) 70, WEST VIRGINIA TECH 67: West Virginia Tech gave No. 1 seed Hope International a scare, especially when junior guard Eddie Gordon hit an NBA-range three-pointer with 5 seconds left that pulled the Golden Bears to within one.
Senior Matt Green calmly hit two free throws with 4.2 seconds left, which pushed the Royals’ lead to three.
The game ended with Gordon throwing up a desperation three-point attempt that hit the backboard and glanced off the rim.
▪ DALTON STATE (GA.) 97, WILEY (TEXAS) 86: No. 6 seed Dalton State (Ga.) jumped to 47-34 halftime lead and maintained control throughout the second half. Junior forward Jordan Bowling led the way for the Roadrunners, scoring 14 points and pulling down 17 rebounds.
▪ ARIZONA CHRISTIAN 94, GEORGETOWN (KY.) 82: After trailing by eight at halftime, Arizona Christian turned up its offense in the second half and outscored No. 14 seed Georgetown (Ky.) 59-39.
Five players scored in double figures for Arizona Christian, led by senior guard Charles King with 17 points.
▪ CAL STATE SAN MARCOS 85, PHILANDER SMITH (ARK.) 79: No. 3 seed Cal State San Marcos had to work for its six-point victory in a game that had four ties and eight lead changes. The 25 points by Cal State senior forward Julian Camper and 23 from senior guard Blake Nash helped offset the five players who scored in double figures for Philander Smith.
▪ CUMBERLANDS (KY.) 55, LSU ALEXANDRA (LA.) 47: Cumberlands pulled away after leading 27-26 at halftime.
▪ MARTIN METHODIST (TENN.) 74, SAGU (TEXAS) 56: Monte Burney had 18 points for Martin Methodist, which led only 33-28 at halftime.
Wednesday’s women’s games
▪ BENEDICTINE (KAN.) 83, WILEY (TEXAS) 76: Chayla Rutledge led Benedictine with 17 points, including 11 in the second half as the Ravens defeated Wiley, a semifinalist in the tournament a year ago. Jackie Ziesel and Jayde Reid both finished with 14 points for the Ravens, who advanced to a second-round game at 12:30 p.m. Friday against top-ranked Freed Hardeman.
▪ FREED-HARDEMAN (TENN.) 64, CAL SATTE SAN MARCOS 54: Grace Alonso de Armino scored 19 poinst for Freed-Hardeman, which pulled away after leading 31-29 at halftime.
▪ OKLAHOMA CITY 63, LEWIS-CLARK STATE (IDAHO) 61: Ouleymatou Coulibaly made two free throws with .3 seconds remaining in regulation as the defending champion Stars withstood a furious rally. The Warriors trailed by as many as 23 points in the game before going on a 23-2 run that sent the game to the final wire.
▪ LANGSTON (OKLA.) 80, PIKEVILLE (KY.) 71: Center Morgan Lee posted the tournament’s first double-double with 14 points and 10 boards as the Lions held off Pikeville. Langston led by as many as 17 in the second half. The Bears got within 72-69 before the Lions, led by T’Keya Mason’s 19 points, put the game away.
▪ GREAT FALLS (MONT.) 73, LOYOLA (LA.) 54: Guard Erin Legel scored 23 points and had eight assists while playing all 40 minutes in the Argonauts’ upset of the Wolfpack, a No. 2 seed. Great Falls center Lindsey Abramson scored 22 points with 12 rebounds for her 18th double-double of the year.
▪ SHAWNEE STATE (OHIO) 69, THE MASTER’S (CALIF.) 57: The Bears never trailed in winning a first-round game for the fifth straight time in the tournament. Shawnee State freshman Ashley McMurtrey scored 19 points, including three-for-three from three-point range.
▪ MONTANA STATE-NORTHERN 60, LINDSEY WILSON (KY.) 42: A’jha Edwards led the Skylights with 25 points and 16 rebounds for her 24th double-double of the season.
▪ SOUTHERN-NEW ORLEANS (LA.) 84, VANGUARD (CALIF.) 56: Southern was previously winless in two prior trips to the national tournament.