LSU Alexandria took the first step to purging a bitter memory on Wednesday.
The Generals escaped an upset bid in the first round of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament by defeating Central Baptist (Ark.) 81-74. It was their first appearance at Municipal Auditorium since losing to Graceland (Iowa) in the 2018 title game on an overtime buzzer beater.
“I think about that every day,” Generals forward William Claiborne said, emphasizing the “every.”
“We were so close. But you’ve got to get over things. It’s a new year. It’s a new team. It’s got to be our year. It’s time to win it all. And I know what it takes. We know what it takes.”
The Generals appeared in complete control when leading 65-47 with 8 minutes, 30 seconds left to play. But Central Baptist (22-11) stormed back behind forward Percell Washington, whose tip-in attempt hung on the rim for several seconds before dropping in, giving him 30 points and cutting the deficit to 73-69 with 2:55 remaining.
LSU’s Malik Harris answered with a three-pointer, and Central Baptist, a school from Conway, Ark., with an enrollment of 417, could not get closer, as Generals guard Brandon Ellis made three of four free throws down the stretch.
“Our guys got complacent with the lead, and those guys started making shots,” said Claiborne, the NAIA’s field-goal percentage leader who led the Generals with 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists with some nifty interior passing. “That’s something we have to fix as a team. We’re going to get better as it goes. We shook it off and got back in the flow of the game.”
Claiborne, a 6-11 senior, is the primary veteran of the Generals program that has progressed through the NAIA Tournament since making its tournament debut in 2015, losing in the first round.
In 2016, the Generals reached the second round; in 2017, their undefeated and top-ranked team lost in the semifinals; and last year ended with the overtime loss in the final to Graceland.
This season, the Generals jumped to a 28-1 start and were ranked No. 1 in the country for most of the season before losing their last two games, including in the first round of the Red River Athletic Conference Tournament.
So they regained some of the swagger with the victory on Wednesday.
“We’ve had our head down. We’ve been working,” coach Larry Cordero said. “If you’re in this tournament, you’re here for a reason. (Central Baptist) gave us more than we could ask for. We were not particularly good from the free-throw line (eight of 14), but we knocked the rust off. We hadn’t been in this gym for a year. You compete and advance. And that’s what we did. We survived.
“Hopefully we have that fairy tale story ending. But we’ve got to make that happen. It’s not going to happen because it appears to be (destined) …. We’ve got to control the outcome.”
Georgetown (Ky.) 77, Rocky Mountain (Mont.) 57: Eljay Cowhard put up a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, more assists than Rocky Mountain’s team total.
Loyola (La.) 68, Missouri Baptist 67: Benjamin Fields’ three-pointer with 28.9 seconds left put Loyola up for good after Missouri Baptist took the lead on Kai Woodfall’s three with 42.1 seconds to play.
William Penn (Iowa) 69, Vanguard (Calif.) 53: The Statesmen, semifinalists the last two years, almost had three players with a double-double: Abrian Edwards had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Shamar Bailey-DeCouteu had 11 and 12, and Omar Sherman had 15 points and nine boards.
Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) 71, Campbellsville (Ky.) 70: The Warriors, after trailing by as many as 13 points stormed from behind and posted their first opening round win since 2016. Dana Abe led Lewis-Clark, 28-6, with 18 points; while Trystan Bradley added 16. Campbellsville, led by Stephen Adams’ 19 points, finished 22-10.
Bethel (Tenn.) 77, John Brown (Ark.) 57: Isaac Edmondson scored 28 points in leading the Wildcats, 25-8, past the Golden Eagles, 23-11. The performance was the sixth time this season Edmondson has scored more than 25 points in a game this season.
LSU Shreveport 83, William Jessup (Calif.) 65: Josh Stamps scored 21 points, Jeff Garrett scored 20 with 13 rebounds and Tim Coleman had 20 as the Pilots, 23-10, overpowered the Warriors, 23-11. Keith Phillips led William Jessup with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
2019 NAIA Division I men’s basketball tournament
At Municipal Auditorium
Wednesday, March 20 first-round games
No. 1 Georgetown (Ky.) 77, No. 8 Rocky Mountain (Mont.) 57
No. 5 LSU Shreveport 83, No. 4 William Jessup (Calif.) 65
No. 6 Loyola (La.) 68, No. 3 Missouri Baptist 67
No. 7 Arizona Christian 81, No. 2 Wayland Baptist (Texas) 73
No. 1 LSU Alexandria 81, No. 8 Central Baptist (Ark.) 74
No. 5 Bethel (Tenn.) 77, No. 4 John Brown (Ark.) 57
No. 6 William Penn (Iowa) 69, No. 3 Vanguard (Calif.) 53
No. 2 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) 71, No. 7 Campbellsville (Ky.) 70
Thursday, March 21 first-round games
No. 1 Tougaloo (Miss.) vs. No. 8 Mid-American Christian (Okla.), 4 p.m.
No. 4 William Carey (Miss.) vs. No. 5 Peru State (Neb.), 5:45 p.m.
No. 3 Wiley (Texas) vs. No. 6 Cumberlands (Ky.), 10:45 a.m.
No. 2 The Master’s (Calif.) vs. No. 7 Science & Arts (Okla.), 9:15 p.m.
No. 1 Benedictine (Kan.) vs. No. 8 Westmont (Calif.), 7:30 p.m.
No. 4 Pikeville (Ky.) 69, No. 5 Talladega (Ala.) 65
No. 3 Carroll (Mont.) vs. No. 6 St. Thomas (Texas), 12:30 p.m.
No. 2 Stillman (Ala.) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma City, 2:15 p.m.
Friday, March 22 second-round games
No. 1 Georgetown (Ky.) vs. No. 5 LSU Shreveport, 12:30 p.m.
No. 6 Loyola (La.) vs. No. 7 Arizona Christian, 4 p.m.
No. 1 LSU Alexandria vs. No. 5 Bethel (Tenn.), 10:45 a.m.
No. 6 William Penn (Iowa) vs. No. 2 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho), 2:15 p.m.
No. 1 Tougaloo (Miss.) or No. 8 Mid-American Christian (Okla.) vs. No. 4 William Carey (Miss.) or No. 5 Peru State (Neb.), 5:45 p.m.
No. 3 Wiley (Texas) or No. 6 Cumberlands (Ky.) vs. No. 2 The Master’s (Calif.) or No. 7 Science & Arts (Okla.), 9:15 p.m.
No. 1 Benedictine (Kan.) or No. 8 Westmont (Calif.) vs. No. 4 Pikeville (Ky.), 7:30 p.m.
No. 3 Carroll (Mont.) or No. 6 St. Thomas (Texas) vs. No. 2 Stillman (Ala.) or No. 7 Oklahoma City, 9 a.m.
Saturday, March 23 quarterfinals
Cramer Bracket: noon
Liston Bracket: 2 p.m.
Naismith Bracket: 5:30 p.m.
Duer Bracket: 7:30 p.m.
Monday, March 25 semifinals
Naismith vs. Cramer champion, 6 p.m.
Duer vs. Liston champion, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, March 26 championship
Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. (ESPN3)