Kansas City, MO – No. 1 LSUA had its stiffest contest of the season as the Generals were forced into overtime by #10 Pikeville, but a key steal and good free throw shooting late helped the Generals prevail over the Bears 84-80 Saturday night at Municipal Auditorium and clinch a spot in the Fab Four for the first time in program history.
The Generals started fast, scoring the game’s first five points as Brian Sylvester’s lay-up two and a half minutes into the game put LSUA up 5-0. But the well-tested Bears, making their fifth straight appearance in the Buffalo Funds NAIA National Championship Tournament, weren’t fazed by LSUA’s fast start as they fought back to take their first lead of the game on a Rze Culbreath three-pointer with 10:20 left to make the score 16-13.
However, LSUA continued to work inside, even as fouls mounted up against some key players, and take the largest lead of the half for either team as William Claiborne turned to the hoop and got a lay-in with just less than 3:30 left to go in the period to make it 29-22 Generals. But it would be the Bears who would finish the half strong, finishing the period with a 12-2 run that Rze Culbreath finished with a three at the buzzer to give Pikeville a 34-31 lead going into halftime. The Bears were 21-0 on the season when leading at intermission heading into the contest.
Out of the break, the Bears took their largest lead of the contest on Darrion Leslie’s basket that made the score 36-31. But from there, LSUA seemed to get into the rhythm that has led to a number of long runs during the season, using a 25-11 spurt to give the Generals the largest lead of the game for either team on Brandon Moss’s tip-in on a Gilbert Talbot miss made the score 56-47 LSUA with 12:42 left in the regulation.
But, after a Pikeville timeout, the Bears mounted an immediate comeback, scoring 14 of the next 17 points to pull back in front of the Generals as Darrion Leslie split a pair of free throws with 6:46 left to make it 61-59 Pikeville. The game would be tight the rest of the way, and with Pikeville holding a 70-66 lead, Gilbert Talbot got a lay-up and Jordin Williams sank a pair of free throws to tie the game at 70-70 with 1:42 to go. Both teams had opportunities to take the lead, but couldn’t do it, including a Bear lay-up attempt right at the buzzer that was too strong by Leslie to send the game into overtime.
Free throw shooting proved pivotal in the extra period, starting before the clock even started as Pikeville’s Michael Lewis was called for pushing Brandon Moss on the jump ball. Moss sank both double bonus free throws to put the Generals up to stay. Jordin Williams’s free throws with 1:29 left gave LSUA its largest lead of the overtime at 80-72. Still, the Bears fought, getting it down to three on a Clint Nwosuh three with 57 seconds left.
After a LSUA turnover gave the Bears a chance to tie the game back up, seldom used Donovan Thomas made the play of the day as he stepped in front of a pass by Trey Rakes and gave it up to Jordin Williams, who sank a pair of free throws with nine seconds left that all but guaranteed a LSUA victory at 82-77. Rakes would make a three to cut the deficit to two points, but Williams again was clutch at the free throw line, sinking another pair with 3.3 seconds left to make sure any last heave would still leave the Generals on top on the scoreboard.
“What a close game. Hats off to Pikeville, those guys played a superb game and either team could’ve come out with the win,” said LSUA head coach Larry Cordaro. “I think we just kept our confidence and belief that we still had just a little more than they did at the end. The made free throws were key and we got enough stops down the stretch. We can learn a lot from this game as we look ahead to the semifinals on Monday night.”
Brandon Moss led the way for the Generals with 20 points and came up a rebound shy of a double-double with nine boards. Brian Sylvester did notch his tenth double-double on the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds and had a season-high six blocked shots in the contest. It’s the second season Sylvester has notched ten or more double-doubles. Jordin Williams, who was clutch at the charity stripe late in the game, finished with 15 points. Hayward Register cashed out of the quarterfinal contest with 11 points, including three made three-pointers.
LSUA (34-0) shot 48.4% from the field in the game, including 56.7% in the second half and overtime. The Generals continued to do work inside, outscoring the Bears (28-8) 40-28 in points in the paint while also holding a 36-19 advantage in points off the bench.
The Generals now enjoy a day off before their semifinal contest Monday night where they’ll meet up with #9 Life University. Tip off against the Running Eagles is set for 6:00 P.M. at Municipal Auditorium.