This season’s Benedictine basketball team had set plenty of program records heading into Thursday night’s first round of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
The Ravens’ 30 wins, 29-game winning streak, and undefeated 24-0 mark in the Heart of America Conference — program records, all.
But their quest for the program’s third NAIA national title was briefly in danger of grinding to a halt before it got started. Benedictine put away a feisty Westmont (Calif.) team 90-85 to advance to Friday’s second round.
Benedictine was no stranger to close games, despite all the success it enjoyed this season. The Ravens won 10 games by five points or less. The Ravens (31-3) used that experience to pull away from Westmont midway through the second half.
“We’ve been in two situations: We’ve been in a lot of games where we were down at half, and we’ve been in a lot of games where it was single digits at the end,” Benedictine coach Ryan Moody said. “We’d prefer not to be in that situation, but we were prepared.”
Thursday night was Benedictine guard Jaiden Bristol’s turn to shine. The St. Joseph native carried the Ravens in the second half, scoring 26 of his game-high 36 points after halftime.
Bristol personally authored two second-half spurts that were crucial. He scored nine straight points midway through the second half to give Benedictine the first bit of breathing room it had all night.
Bristol’s second outburst came moments later, when Westmont (18-11) came within one basket of tying the game. Bristol poured in six more straight points, the last on a hesitation move that had just about everybody in Municipal Auditorium gasping.
“I was kind of feeling it, and my team just got me confident,” Bristol said. “When we score, our bench goes crazy, and they just make it fun to play. Everybody on our team makes it fun to play for each other, and they just gave me my feel tonight.”
St. Thomas Aquinas alum Adam Kutney scored 17. Eric Krus scored 15, and Thomas O’Connor rounded out a balanced effort with 12 points.
The college basketball mantra this time of year is simply survive and advance. Benedictine was able to do that on Thursday, despite a talented Westmont team playing like it had nothing to lose.
The Warriors took a one-point lead into the half after shooting 52 percent from the field and 71 percent from the three-point line. They cooled off a bit in the second half, but kept firing until the final seconds.
“This is a lot of our team’s first time playing in the national tournament, and a lot of our team’s first time playing significant minutes in the national tournament. I think it’s more of a big weight off our chest, just to get the first game out of the way,” Bristol said.
His coach echoed those sentiments.
“Winning the first game in the tournament as a 1 seed, there’s a little bit of pressure there,” Moody said. “Getting that off and making it to Day 2, we get to be a part of it and stay in it. We’re looking forward to (Friday).”
Notes: Benedictine senior Thomas O’Connor inched closer to coach Ryan Moody’s career three-point record. He made three on Thursday night, and needs three more to tie Moody’s career mark of 246. ... Benedictine set a program record entering the championship, with 2,519 points. The previous mark of 2,351 was set in 2016-17. ... The Ravens won 29 straight games between a Nov. 11 loss to Park and falling to Peru State in the Heart of America Conference tournament title game on March 12.
No. 4 William Carey (Miss.) 95, No. 5 Peru State (Neb.) 89: Cameron Douglas scored a team-high 19 points for William Carey, which led by as many as 16. Dalen Dotson, the older brother of KU’s Devon Dotson, played 15 minutes for William Carey but didn’t score a point.
No. 7 Science & Arts (Okla.) 78, No. 2 The Master’s (Calif.) 75: Science & Arts held The Master’s to 39.1 percent shooting in pulling off the upset.
No. 8 Mid-America Christian (Okla.) 73, No. 1 Tougaloo (Miss.) 64: Anthony Black scored 17 points in helping take down the first No. 1 seed of the tournament.
No. 7 Oklahoma City 101, No. 2 Stillman (Ala.) 84: Oklahoma City made 15 of 29 three-pointers and became the first team in this year’s tournament to top 100 points. Chris Williams scored a game-high 27 points and shot 6 of 8 from three.
Carroll (Mont.) 71, St. Thomas (Texas) 65: Carroll’s four players in double-figure scoring — Match Burnham (19), Matt Wyman (18), Dane Warp (15) and Ife Kalejaiye (11) — accounted for 63 of the team’s points.
Wiley (Texas) 68, Cumberlands (Ky.) 56: Wiley outscored Cumberlands 18-0 in second-chance points, pulling in 18 offensive rebounds.
Pikeville (Ky.) 69, Talladega (Ala.) 65: Chase Parsley’s free throws with 2.8 seconds left secured the victory after Talladega went on a 16-3 run to take a one-point lead with 6:13 to play.
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. 8 Mid-American Christian (Okla.) 73, No. 1 Tougaloo (Miss.) 64
No. 4 William Carey (Miss.) 95, No. 5 Peru State (Neb.) 89
No. 3 Wiley (Texas) 68, No. 6 Cumberlands (Ky.) 56
No. 7 Science & Arts (Okla.) 78, No. 2 The Master’s (Calif.) 75
No. 1 Benedictine (Kan.) 90, No. 8 Westmont (Calif.) 85
No. 4 Pikeville (Ky.) 69, No. 5 Talladega (Ala.) 65
No. 3 Carroll (Mont.) 71, No. 6 St. Thomas (Texas) 65
No. 7 Oklahoma City 101, No. 2 Stillman (Ala.) 84
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. 8 Mid-American Christian (Okla.) vs. No. 4 William Carey, 5:45 p.m.
No. 3 Wiley (Texas) vs. No. 7 Science & Arts (Okla.), 9:15 p.m.
No. 1 Benedictine (Kan.) vs. No. 4 Pikeville (Ky.), 7:30 p.m.
No. 3 Carroll (Mont.) vs. 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)