The nation’s top-ranked team won’t play for the NAIA national championship because it didn’t beat the third-place team in its own conference.
Westmont (Calif.), which tied for third in the rugged Golden State Athletic Conference, defeated Hope International 70-69 in a dramatic NAIA Tournament semifinal on Monday at Municipal Auditorium.
Westmont will meet Dalton State (Ga.) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Municipal Auditorium. The winner will have its first NAIA basketball title.
Hope, fighting uphill the entire game, took its first lead on Kenny Morgan’s floater in the lane with 13 seconds remaining.
Never miss a local story.
Westmont got the ball in quickly, and leading scorer Cory Blau calmly swished a 15-footer.
Seven seconds remained, and Hope was out of timeouts. The ball found Morgan’s hands and he wound up about 16 feet from the hoop. It wasn’t a clean look, but good enough. The ball bounced on the rim twice before falling off as the buzzer sounded.
Westmont, swept in the regular season series by the Royals, broke into a wild celebration while Hope players starred in disbelief.
The Royals, 32-3, fell behind seven at halftime, and the deficit grew to nine early in the second half. But Hope chipped away behind Morgan, who had 14 of his 20 points after halftime.
Westmont had an answer for almost every Royals’ charge, usually big man Daniel Carlin around the basket.
Hope caught a break after cutting the deficit to 68-67 with 45 seconds remaining. Royals guard Matt Green broke up the deep inbounds pass, and the Royals had their chance. Morgan connected inside, and a defensive stand would send Hope to its first NAIA national title game. But Blau knocked down his final attempt and Morgan misfired on his.
And Westmont, a semifinalist in 1999 for its best NAIA finish, has gone one step further in its 18th appearance in the national tournament.
Dalton State 64, Talladega College 54
Jordan Bowling walked out of the Dalton State (Ga.) locker room and was stopped by coach Tony Ingle.
“This is why we win, right here,” Ingle said.
Not because of Bowling’s play in Monday’s NAIA Tournament semifinal victory over Talladega College (Ala.). Bowling, who was the Roadrunners’ scoring leader in the first three games at Municipal Auditorium, didn’t scratch in Dalton’s 64-54 outcome.
When Ingle looked at Bowling on the bench in the second half and was about to motion him in the game, Bowling told him to keep the status quo.
Things had started falling Dalton State’s way. Success wasn’t to be disturbed.
After a halftime deadlock, the Roadrunners had fallen behind 46-40 with 7:46 to play. Talladega, 32-5 and the nation’s second-ranked team, was getting to the rim and free-throw line and seemed about ready to break things open.
But Dalton’s Anthony Hilliard splashed a three-pointer, and after a Talladega miss, Hilliard tied the game with another three.
Moments later Jamaine Burrey knocked in a three-pointer that gaave Dalton State a 49-48 lead, and the Roadrunners wouldn’t trail again.
Huge shots are part of the Roadrunners’ makeup.
“We have confidence and faith in each other,” Hilliard said.
That confidence might have gotten a boost late in the first half when point guard Sean Tate, with the shot clock approaching zero, launched a falling-backwards 30-footer that hit the backboard and rim before falling through.
The threes put Dalton State in a position to win. The ones — free throws — brought it home. The Roadrunners made 12 of their final 14 from the line.
Dalton State, a former junior college that became a four-year school in 1998, next goes for an NAIA national championship.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.