Down by two points with 13.5 seconds remaining in the first round of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, Park University senior guard Mylin Jordan went to the free-throw line.
Jordan missed the first one, which put the Pirates in a precarious position against Mid-America Christian University (Okla.). He made the second one, but that forced Park to foul.
Junior Devonse Reed responded to the pressure and made both free throws, giving the Evangels a three-point lead. It was just enough of a cushion for Mid-America Christian to squeeze out an 88-86 victory Wednesday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium.
“That didn’t cost us the game,” Park coach Jason Kline said of the missed free throw. “Everything in the last 2 or 3 minutes is magnified. There were a lot of things that happened during the game that we didn’t do well and they didn’t do so well. But they did enough good things to outweigh them.”
It was unfortunate for Jordan to have a missed free throw late in the game. He came off the bench to score 19 points, including nine of 12 from the free-throw line. His relentless drives to the basket brought the Pirates back after they trailed 54-46 early in the second half.
One of Jordan’s drives completed a 10-0 run that put Park in front 56-54.
“He can get to the basket and score, and that is what we wanted to try to do,” Kline said. “He went to the basket hard a few times. We want him to get to the free-throw line.”
Mid-America Christian regained the lead at 63-61 and expanded it to 71-65 with 7:42 left. Once again, Park fought back and went ahead 78-76 on a basket by junior Xavielle Brown, who received a nice assist from junior BJ Watson.
The game remained close the last 4 minutes. Park tied the game 83-83 with 1 minute left on two free throws by Jordan. Mid-America Christian took an 85-83 lead 12 seconds later when senior Chris Runnels grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a put-back basket.
Despite the tough loss, Kline was proud of what the Pirates accomplished this season. They finished 20-10.
“None of our players have been here,” Kline said. “It means a lot to me for the work ethic these guys put in. You want them to experience the national tournament because it is an once-in-a-lifetime event.”
Watson led Park with 21 points, and sophomore Levi Mitchell added 17.
After a slow start, both teams heated up and by the time the first half ended, Mid-America Christian went into halftime with a 42-40 lead. The half included five ties and four lead changes.
Early on, Park was the colder of the two teams and fell behind 10-5. The Pirates tied the game at 10-10 and took their first lead at 15-14 on a three-pointer by Brown.
The lead changed a couple more times before Park built its biggest lead at 28-23. Watson fueled the Pirates’ hot stretch.
Mid-America Christian regained its offensive rhythm and went on a 13-6 run for a 36-34 lead. The Evangels never trailed again in the first half.
▪ Xavier Owens made two free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting No. 6 seed Cumberlands (Ky.) to a 80-78 win over third-seeded Langston (Okla.) in Wednesday’s opening game. Owens made all eighth of his free throws and finished with 19 points.
▪ Noah Cottrill scored 28 points as top-seeded Georgetown (Ky.) eased past Wayland Baptist (Texas) 102-83.
▪ Jordan Washington scored the game-winning basket as time expired, giving No. 2-seeded Talladega (Ala.) a 63-61 win over No. 7 seed Westmont (Calif.). Nigel Jones led Talladega with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
▪ Terrell Funches scored 26 points as top-seeded Biola (Calif.) rolled past Faulkner (Ala.) 84-54.
▪ Brady Burford had 17 points as William Penn (Iowa) beat Montana Western 85-77.