Late free throws help MACU advance past Park in NAIA opening round

Photo courtesy MACU Sports Info.

From MACU Sports Info.
Levi Convirs, Sports Information Director

KANSAS CITY – The fourth-seeded Mid-America Christian University Evangels pulled out a dramatic 88-86 victory Wednesday over the fifth-seeded Park University Pirates in the first round of the 2016 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament at the historic Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

The win moves the Evangels into a second-round matchup against the top-seeded Biola University (Calif.) Eagles Friday morning (Mar. 18) at 10:45 a.m.

Today’s game had all the feel of a contest headed to the wire and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Evangels and Pirates were tied 13 times, with Chris Runnels’ putback with 46 seconds left snapping the final gridlock and putting MACU up 85-83.

After Mylin Jordan was fouled and made one free throw for the Pirates, Devonse Reed stepped to the line and nailed two crucial freebies with 12 seconds left to make it a three-point game.

The Pirates then elected to take the quick score as BJ Watson drove in for a layup to make it 87-86.

Following one out of two made free throws from Bryon Miller, a last second three-point by the Pirates was off the mark as the Evangels held on for the win.

“What a gutty effort by our group,” MACU head coach Josh Gamblin said. “So many guys stepped up and played well in a hostile environment.  I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”

With Park’s campus approximately 15 minutes from the KC area, the Pirates had a definite homecourt advantage, but the Evangels started fast as four points each from Jerrick Massenburge and Devonse Reed staked MACU to an early 10-5 lead.

The Pirates then rallied back with a 13-4 spurt to take an 18-14 lead at the 10:59 mark of the opening half.

Park led by as much as five but the Evangels rallied behind seven straight points from Miller that helped tie the score at 32-32 and MACU went on to a 42-40 lead at the break.

The Evangels gained some separation early in the second half as a three-point play by Nick Tate built the lead to seven before a trey from Miller gave the Evangels their largest lead of the game at 54-46 with 15:45 remaining.

Jordan helped the Pirates answer in a big way by scoring eight points to key a 14-2 burst over the next five minutes that gave Park a 60-56 lead.

The back-and-forth contest continued when a three by Miller and a score from Ex’Zavia Seaton capped a 7-1 push that put the Evangels back in front 63-61 at the 9:35 mark.

Miller led the Evangels (24-9) with 26 points and Reed scored 23. Runnels recorded a double-double of 12 points along with a career-high 15 rebounds and two blocked shots, tying the overall school record of 55 swats in a season. Tate also reached double-figure scoring with 10 points and Malcolm Mann dished out a game-high seven assists.

Watson paced five Pirates in double-figure scoring with 21 points and Jordan added 19. Levi Mitchell scored 17 and the Pirates (20-10) got double-doubles from Xavielle Brown and Derrick Williams. Brown tallied 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Williams had 10 points and 11 boards.

The Evangels and Eagles will be meeting for the first time when they clash in the second round on Friday.  Biola is currently riding an NAIA-best 11-game winning streak.

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