MidAmerica Nazarene refused to allow a disappointing finish in regulation bother the team in overtime on Thursday evening in the first round of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium.
The Pioneers, seeded third in the Cramer Bracket, scored 15 points in overtime and beat No. 6 seed Oklahoma City 87-82. MidAmerica, 26-8, will face William Jessup (Calif.), 19-10, in the second round at 8 p.m. Friday.
“It shows our guys are winners,” MidAmerica coach Rocky Lamar said. “At halftime, our shooters were not shooting the way they were supposed to. It was their first experience in the national tournament. I looked at Jonas Page and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you are going to be fine.’ He stroked the ball in the second half.
“We started running in the second half. We got the ball inside. It was unbelievable what we did in overtime. We had our big on the bench (fouled out), and we had other guys in foul trouble. I am so proud of them.”
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MidAmerica immediately took the lead in overtime on a 10-foot jumper by Page, who was instrumental in helping the Pioneers comeback from a second-half deficit. After going 0 for 4 from the field in the first half, Page finished with 18 points.
Twice Oklahoma City tied the game in overtime. Eventually, MidAmerica built an 84-78 lead, enough of a cushion to pull out the win.
For most of the second half, it appeared the Pioneers were not going to recover from giving up the first six points in the second half to fall behind 37-31.
Making the situation even bleaker for MidAmerica was that it picked up its seventh team foul with still 14:41 left in the game, putting the Stars in position to score a lot of points at the free-throw line.
Trailing 58-51, the Pioneers mounted their comeback. It started with a field goal in the paint by sophomore Gabriel Jordan and then Page drilled a three-pointer that pulled the Pioneers within two points. A little later, Page hit another three-pointer that closed the gap to 60-59.
“I had a little bit of jitters,” Page said. “After halftime I calmed down and found my rhythm and once I found it, my teammates looked for me. That is what we do. We know the hot person.”
Page’s third three-pointer gave MidAmerica a 67-64 lead with 3 minutes left. The Pioneers extended their lead to 70-64 with a minute left.
“We know we can score with pretty much anybody in the nation,” said Nick Syrie, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “We knew if we wanted to come back and win, we had to get stops on the defensive end, and it helped when Jonas was hitting everything.”
With 11.6 seconds left and the Pioneers clinging to a one-point lead, Page made both free throws to give MidAmerica a 72-69 lead.
Oklahoma City responded with a desperate three-point shot by sophomore Terence Bonhomme. He missed but MidAmerica was whistled for a foul. With 0.6 seconds left, Bonhomme made all three free throws, sending the game into overtime.
“We were hoping he would miss one,” Syrie said. “As soon as he made the third one, we had to put the first two halves behind us and get ready for overtime. We knew we had a chance to pull it out and we found a way to do it.”
▪ William Jessup (Calif.), the No. 7 seed in the Cramer Bracket, overcame a 14-point second-half deficit and upended No. 2 seed Pikeville (Ky.) 82-69. William Jessup held Pikeville to 32.8 percent shooting from the field and outrebounded the Bears 49-34. Desmond Floyd had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Jessup. K.K. Simmons scored 23 points for Pikeville, but he made only 1 of 9 three-point shots.
▪ Dennis Hightower scored 38 points, 32 in the second half as seventh-seeded Dillard (La.) knocked out No. 2 seed Hope International 111-91 in the Liston Bracket. Dillard was down two at halftime, but the Blue Devils scored 69 points in the second half. The two teams combined for 59 fouls. The 111 points by Dillard were the most scored in a game in the tournament since Point Park (Pa.) scored 111 in 1997. Dillard will face No. 6 seed Campbellsville, (Ky.). in the second round on Friday. Hope International made it to the semifinals last year.
▪ Campbellsville advanced with a 91-88 win over thrid-seeded Texas Wesleyan. There were 19 lead changes in the game. Dii’Jon Allen-Jordan had 22 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots for Campbellsville. Jerell Ellis scored a game-high 23 points for the Rams, who lost their third straight first-round game.
▪ No. 5 seed Carroll (Mont.) led the entire game and knocked out No. 4 seed Peru State (Neb.) 99-82. Ryan Imhoff paced six Carroll players in double figures with 25 points. Imhoff also pulled down 11 rebounds. Corday Sims scored 27 points for Peru State. He ends the season with a school record with 858 points on the season and 1,458 in his two-season run at Peru State.
▪ LSU Alexandria, the top seed in the Liston Bracket, picked up its first-ever NAIA Tournament win by topping SAGU (Texas) 95-74. The Generals will face Carroll in the second round. Brian Sylvester came off the bench and led the Generals with 16 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. LSU Alexandria, which shot 55.4 percent for the game, improved to 29-3.