MidAmerica Nazarene pulled off the most amazing comeback so far in the NAIA Division I men’s tournament.
Other than the first few seconds, the Pioneers trailed Oklahoma Baptist nearly the entire game and as much as 14 points midway through the first half.
But once MidAmerica grabbed a lead with 1 minute, 41 seconds left on a three-pointer by senior Rustin Dowd, the Pioneers never relinquished their advantage, pulling out an improbable 68-66 victory Friday evening at Municipal Auditorium.
“It is an unbelievable feeling,” said Dowd, who finished with 25 points. “I’m glad we got the win. It is awesome.”
By knocking off the No. 10 seed, MidAmerica, 26-9, advances to the quarterfinals and will play at 8 tonight against the winner of the Faulkner/Lindsey Wilson game.
“This group hasn’t quit all year,” MidAmerica coach Rocky Lamar said. “We have had adversity all year. I’m proud of everybody. It was a great win for us.”
After scoring the first three points of the game on a three-point play by Dowd, MidAmerica quickly fell behind. Oklahoma Baptist raced to a 21-7 lead.
“There was definitely some unraveling, some panic,” Dowd said. “I felt like we didn’t play well until the last 5 minutes. The guys never quit.”
Dowd came up with some key three-pointers late in the game. It was amazing MidAmerica got to a point in which each basket was important. The Pioneers trailed 58-46 with 8:54 left.
MidAmerica closed to 63-58 with 3 minutes left when Dowd got hot. His first three-pointer pulled the Pioneers to within two at 63-61, and his next three-pointer gave his team the lead at 64-63.
Dowd added another basket, increasing MidAmerica’s lead 67-64. Dowd gave just as much credit to senior Jacob French, who had three blocks in the final 5 minutes.
“Those were unbelievable plays,” Dowd said.
The Pioneers made just enough free throws in the final minute to hang on for the victory.Columbia College 66 Hope International 64
The perfect season looked in jeopardy for Columbia College on Friday. The Cougars trailed Hope International University (Calif.) by seven points with just fewer than 10 minutes left.
It was at that point the undefeated magic returned. The Cougars scored the next 13 points and used that run to help them win 66-64.
“We know how to win,” junior Devin Griffin said. “This is the farthest I have been, getting into the third round. This is very big to me.”
The victory puts Columbia, 35-0, into a quarterfinal against LSU-Shreveport at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Once the Cougars gained control of the game by turning a 54-47 deficit into a 60-54 lead, they needed to play gritty defense and make a few clutch plays on offense in the last 2 minutes.
“Ten minutes, 20 minutes, it doesn’t really matter until the clock hits zero,” Griffin said. “Ten minutes is a lifetime. We had plenty of time to get back in the game.”
Hope took a 62-61 lead with 1:24 left. Fourteen seconds later, Columbia was back in front by one on a basket by Griffin.
“I felt it was my time,” said Griffin, who finished with 12 points and six assists. “My team wanted to put the ball in my hands. I did what I needed to do.”
The Royals regained a one-point lead, and Griffin answered with a field goal that gave Columbia a 65-64 lead with 46 seconds left. Griffin later added a free throw.
Hope had one more opportunity. The Royals had 16 seconds to score, but the Cougars didn’t even allow them to get off a shot.
Senior center Jordan Dressler led Columbia with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Offense ruled in a free-flowing first half in which both teams made an array of shots, from back-door cuts to three-pointers. The score was tied 32-32 at halftime.
Columbia shot 61 percent from the field and Hope made 50 percent of its shots.
The Cougars scored the first four points of the game in 33 seconds, prompting Hope to call timeout. It worked for the Royals, who scored the next six points.
Trailing 12-10, Hope went on a 12-0 run for a 22-12 lead. Columbia used the rest of the half to catch up. The Cougars finally forged a tie less than a minute remaining in the half on a three-pointer by Tanner Sutton.