The NAIA Division I Men’s basketball tournament is turning into the Heart of America Athletic Conference Invitational.
Unseeded MidAmerica Nazarene blew out 13th seed LSU Shreveport 96-71 in a first-round game on Thursday night at Municipal Auditorium, putting three of the HAAC’s four teams in Friday’s second round.
The Pioneers, 24-10, joined Benedictine (Kan.) College, which won on Wednesday, and Culver-Stockton (Mo.), a Thursday afternoon winner over Arizona Christian, in the second round. Evangel (Mo.) University was the only one of the four HAAC teams to lose in the first round.
“Maybe we’re sending a message that we’re OK,” said MidAmerica Nazarene coach Rocky Lamar, whose team has now won nine straight, including the HAAC postseason tournament. “To be honest, they were kind enough to put four of us in this year, too, so we’ve earned a little bit of respect.”
MidAmerica, an NAIA quarterfinalist last year, will play at 8 on Friday night against the winner of the Columbia (Mo.)-Belhaven (Miss.) University late Thursday game.
Senior forward Luke Thomas of Raymore-Peculiar High School led the Pioneers with 22 points and 11 rebounds — his 27th double-double of the season, most in the NAIA.
LSU Shreveport, a semifinalist in last year’s tournament, was no match for the Pioneers. MidAmerica never trailed in the game and held LSU Shreveport, 21-9, to its third-fewest points of the season and 18 points under the Pilots’ season average 89 points per game.
“Our kids are starting to understand wanting to guard people, and if we want to guard people, you have a chance to be decent,” said Lamar, who began the week as an inductee in the NAIA Hall of Fame. “We didn’t want to guard people early in the year, and finally we’re starting to guard, and I’m proud of them.”
The Pioneers led just 23-20 midway through the first half when senior Conner Langrehr knocked down consecutive three-pointers that triggered an 8-0 run and created some distance between the teams.
“My teammates did a great job of getting me open,” said Langrehr of Gardner-Edgerton, who scored 18 points. “I was trying to be a decoy for my guys early. We were going into Luke, and he was doing a great job of scoring it. David Clark was doing a great job scoring and it just happened. I got great screens and (point guard) Nick Syrie found me.”
MidAmerica led by as many as 21 points in the second half when LSU Shreveport made a 10-0 run and moved to within 66-55 with 10 minutes to play.
That’s when Thomas went to work. He drove to the basket twice, drew two fouls and made three of four free throws. Between those two trips to the line, Thomas, triple-teamed, found an open Syrie under the basket for an easy two points, restoring the lead to 71-55. The Pilots would get no closer.
“We want the ball to be in Luke and Nick’s hands whenever we get in trouble,” Lamar said. “They both seem to make great decisions.”
LSU Shreveport guard Brandon Davis led the Pilots with 21 points, but he was just eight of 24 from the field.Columbia (Mo.) 81, Belhaven (Miss.) 57
Jeremy Nolen scored 15 points, and Devin Griffin and Derrick Dilworth added 14 each
as the fourth-seeded Cougars, 32-2, rolled to their 15th straight win. Columbia’s second-round game against Mid-America at 8 Friday night will be a rematch of a 2009 semifinal won by the Cougars.
Belhaven, 18-15, was led by freshman Curt Hall’s 15 points.St. Catherine (Ky.) 99, SAGU (Texas) 97
The unseeded Patriots, playing in just their second NAIA tournament, upset No. 5 Southwestern Assembly of God, which was the tournament runner-up last year.
SAGU’s Dominique Rambo had a chance to tie the game, but his driving shot rolled off the rim as time expired.
St. Catherine, 19-12, was led by Raymon Austin, who scored 16 points with 10 rebounds; and William Tolefree and Omar Skinner and Julito Hutchinson, all of whom had 13 points. SAGU, 26-6, was led by Jonathan Walter, who scored 28 points, and Rambo, who had 20.