MidAmerica Nazarene dominated the rebounding wars in beating No. 7 seed Cal State Sam Marco 109-98 Thursday evening in a first round game of the NAIA Division I National Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
The game was hard fought with the Pioneers leading the entire second half, but the Cougars cut the margin to 90-87 with 6:26 left in the game.
The Pioneers scored the next six points, pushing the margin to nine.
Senior Rustin Dowd scored on a driving lay up at the 6:04 mark, then senior Jacob French hit two free throws and junior Conner Langrehr connected on a fast break lay up at the 5:02 mark that completed the run.
The Pioneers were able to hit 10-of-16 from the free throw line to get the win that improved their record to 25-9.
“This was a very hard fought game,” Pioneers coach Rocky Lamar said. “If we could just guard someone we could be a pretty good team.”
Lamar pointed to the play of senior Lukas Weigel off the bench.
“He gave us some valuable minutes in the first half,” Lamar said.
The Pioneers dominated the rebounding battle against the taller Cougars with an 57-30.
Senior Blue Valley West graduate Jacob French had 20 rebounds and 19 points, his fourth double-double of the year. He also had five assists.
Junior Raymore-Peculiar graduate Luke Thomas had his 15th double-double of the season. He had 13 rebounds and 15 points.
“My teammates played hard, and our coaches prepared us well,” Thomas said. “I get to practice against Luke Weigel. He weighs 250 pounds, and he really prepares me for the games.”
Dowd, who played at Olathe South, and junior Daivd Clark had 18 points each, and sophomore Nick Syrie scored 14 points and handed out seven assists.
The Pioneers were 39-of-76 from the field for 51 percent and had 18 assists.
Cal State senior Jacob Ranger was the leading scorer in the game with 30 points, and senior Danny Redmon added 27.
MidAmerica Nazarene only trailed once in the first half and enjoyed a 51-43 advantage at the halftime.
The Pioneers hit on 49 percent of their first-half field goal attempts and out-rebounded the Cougars 29-15 in the first 20 minutes.
Dowd had 11 first-half points, but the leader at halftime was the Cougars’ Danny Redmon with 13.
The Heart of America Conference has three teams in the round of 16 today with Evangel winning on Wednesday and Culver Stockton capturing its game Thursday afternoon.
The Pioneers meet No. 10 seed Oklahoma Baptist today at 8 p.m.
“It will be a fun game,” Lamar said. “Hopefully we will play with the same intensity.”
Thomas added, “Our coaches will do a good job of preparing us.”