Kansas City, MO – No. 1 LSUA made it as far as they ever have in the Buffalo Funds NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament, but the ultimate prize eluded the Generals again as LSUA fell in the semifinals 65-63 to #9 Life University Monday night at Municipal Auditorium.
The game was close throughout. LSUA jumped out to an early lead as a Jordin Williams fast break bucket put the Generals up 9-5 with just more than 14 minutes left in the first half. After the Running Eagles took a 12-11 lead, the Generals scored the next eight points as Brandon Ellis’s three put the Generals up 19-12.
As the two teams continued to trade baskets, the Generals finally built the lead to double-digits at ten points on Hayward Register’s three that put LSUA up 28-18 with less than six minutes to go in the first half. But that would be LSUA’s last points of the half as Life finished the period on a 7-0 run to pull within 28-25 at the break.
LSUA extended the lead right out of the break on Brian Sylvester’s hook shot put the Generals up 30-25. But when Mike Miller hit a three with less than 9:30 left in the game, LSUA wouldn’t lead again.
The Generals did have chances, though, as a Hayward Register three with just more than 6:00 left tied the game back up at 53-53. But Zach Landis took advantage of a LSUA miscue that gave Life a second chance off of a missed three, and he nailed a three-pointer to give the Running Eagles the lead for good with less than 5:00 left.
Life gave LSUA some life as Zach Landis split a pair of free throws to keep the Generals within two points with a chance at a last possession, but one shot attempt was blocked out of bounds and the last heave to Brandon Moss was stolen from his clutches and the Running Eagles ran out the clock.
“It was an unbelievable season, even though it didn’t end like we wanted it to,” said head coach Larry Cordaro. “We took another step forward, making it to the Fab Four for the first time, and we met a team that’s been here and won three national championships being led by a coach who’s been doing this since I was probably in junior high. These guys laid it all on the line, not just tonight, but every day all the way back to summer workouts.
“I have to say thank you to everyone who played a role in our success this season, including our seniors – Brian Sylvester, Gilbert Talbot, Hayward Register, and even guys like Damian Goodwin, a crucial player who was hurt late in the season, and Andre Gonzaque who put in so much time on the team even though he’s no longer with us. For the guys who will be back, including myself and the rest of the coaching staff, this is a big learning experience and we must learn the lessons of this defeat. But this team has nothing to hang their heads about. They’re a special group and this will only make us stronger.”
Hayward Register, playing in his final game as a General, scored 15 points on five made three-pointers. Gilbert Talbot and Brian Sylvester were the only other double-digit scorers, with 14 points and ten points respectively. Brandon Moss led the way with ten rebounds.
LSUA was held to 39.1% from the field, even after shooting 48.3% in the second half. Ball security was key, as LSUA turned it over 13 times, compared to just three for Life. The Running Eagles turned those turnovers in 13 points, while the Generals got just two points off turnovers. LSUA tried to exploit the advantage inside, outrebounding Life 50-29, but the margin of points in the paint wasn’t as pronounced as in the previous three contests, 34-26.
The Generals complete the 2016-17 season 34-1 and with the Red River Athletic Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships, and will likely finish #2 in the postseason NAIA Coaches’ Poll.