As the final seconds waned in the first half, Georgetown (Ky.) College’s Chris Coffey pounced on a loose ball near midcourt, took a step past the half-court line, and let it fly.
Coffey’s shot banked in at the buzzer for a 46-foot three-pointer, and he and his teammates kept right on running through the tunnel and straight into the locker room.
There would be no catching Coffey or the Tigers, who defeated William Carey (Miss.) University 94-83 on Monday night in the opening semifinal of the 82nd annual NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
With the win, No. 1 overall seed Georgetown, 32-4, advanced to Tuesday’s 8 p.m. championship game against Carroll (Mont.) College, a 66-55 winner over Idaho’s Lewis-Clark State (see story, below). The first overall seed has not won the NAIA Tournament since Mountain State (W.Va.) in 2004.
Coffey, a 6-7 junior from Louisville, half-jokingly said he practices the half-court heave when not perfecting his powerful inside game.
“I throw the ball up there during warmup lines,” said Coffey, who finished with a season-best 32 points on 12 of 15 shooting with 12 rebounds. “Our media says I’m not a guard, so I had to show ‘em I’m a guard.”
Coffey’s mid-court shot gave Georgetown a 42-24 halftime lead, and the Tigers built the lead to 48-28 on a basket by Coffey 90 seconds into the second half.
But William Carey, 25-10, which overcame an 18-point deficit in defeating Science and Arts (Okla.) in Saturday’s quarterfinals, stormed back, mostly on the three-point shooting of Brandon Cranford, and drew to within 57-53 with 11 minutes to play.
“You always go in there at halftime and say, ‘Keep your foot on the gas pedal, they’re going to come out strong those first four minutes, don’t let them get going, don’t let them make runs,’’’ said Georgetown coach Chris Briggs.
“William Carey isn’t in the final four because they’re not a good basketball team. They’re a fantastic team and they’re going to make runs, and they’re going to make shots. That’s what they did. We were able to withstand it and close it out during the stretch.”
Coffey restored some order with a dunk off a rebound, and the Tigers withstood the barrage by Cranford, who also is from Louisville, 70 miles from the Georgetown campus. Cranford led William Carey with 26 points, including eight of 15 from three-point range.
Georgetown, making its 28th straight appearance in the tournament, has won more tournament games — 72 — than any NAIA program, including titles in 1998 and 2013. Briggs will be taking his third team in seven years to the championship game and hopes to erase the memory of an overtime, buzzer-beating loss in the 2016 title game.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Briggs said. “When we recruit these guys, that’s what we talk about: trying to get to the final four, trying to get the national title, trying to put a ring on their finger. That’s why these guys want to come to Georgetown, because of the success that Georgetown has had going back 60 years.
“As an 18- to 22-year old college basketball player, these are the things you dream of, playing for a national title and cutting down nets.”
Carroll (Mont.) College 66, Lewis-Clark (Idaho) 55 — Frontier Conference rivals Carroll and Lewis-Clark split four meetings during the season, but the Fighting Saints won the one that counted the most.
Carroll forward Match Burnham continued his torrid play in the tournament as the Fighting Saints, 29-7, advanced to the first NAIA title game in school history.
Burnham, who entered the semifinal averaging 21 points in the tournament, scored 27 and pulled down 10 rebounds. He made 18 of 20 free throws.
“I thought Match Burnham’s free throws and attacking at the hoop was just phenomenal and the difference in the game,” said Carroll coach Kent Paulson.
Lewis-Clark, 30-7, had won 14 straight, including two in a row over Carroll, and facing an opponent for a fifth time was not easy for either team. The game ended with a nasty flagrant foul against Lewis-Clark’s Damek Mitchell, who was ejected after grabbing Dane Warp around the head under the basket.
“We just played them in our conference championship and they put it to us pretty good,” Paulson said of a 76-50 loss on Carroll’s home court. “So I think it was more our guys having that in the back of their heads … this wasn’t a first round, second round, third-round game that we could face them. It was this round. They wanted revenge.”
Carroll led 49-37 midway through the second half, but Lewis-Clark, taking advantage of Burnham’s getting a rest, trimmed the lead to 49-46 with a 9-0 run. As soon as Burnham, a 6-8 senior, re-entered the game he made a driving basket with his left hand for a 51-46 lead. After making a steal, Dane Warp scored, building the lead to seven.
Lewis-Clark was hamstrung in the first half because guard Dana Abe, the Warriors’ leading scorer, was limited to just 4 minutes, 11 seconds of playing time after incurring three fouls. Abe picked up his fourth foul on an offensive charge with 11:15 left in the game and fouled out at 4:58, having played just 14 minutes and scoring five points.