KANSAS CITY, MO -- The #2 LSUA men’s basketball team closed out their second round game in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament with a 20-8 run over the final 5:45 to erase a seven-point deficit as the Generals rallied past the #18 Bethel Wildcats 78-73 Friday at the Municipal Auditorium.
The Generals and Wildcats proved to be equal foes for most of the contest as neither team ever led by double digits throughout the entirety of the 40 minutes. With the game tied at 14-14, Devin Jackson hit back-to-back threes, and then a pair of William Claiborne free throws completed and 8-0 run and gave LSUA its largest lead of the contest at 22-14 with 9:30 left before halftime.
Bethel immediately answered with a 9-0 run of its own to reclaim the lead on a Chase Nappier three-pointer that gave the Wildcats a 23-22 advantage with less than 6:20 left in the period. LSUA tied it back up on a Claiborne free throw on LSUA’s ensuing possession, and then a Phillip Rankin, Jr. bucket gave the Generals the lead for the remainder of the period. Leading 30-29, the Generals ran off a spurt of five straight points to get the lead back up to six points off of a pair of Jordan Adebutu free throws that made it 35-29 LSUA with less than two minutes left. LSUA took a 39-33 advantage into the halftime locker room.
After Bethel opened the second half’s scoring, the Generals hit three straight free throws to up the lead to seven points at 42-35 with 18:23 remaining. However, the Wildcats went on another 8-0 run to reclaim the lead on a Chase Nappier lay-up with 16:30 left, which made the it 43-42 Wildcats.
The two teams traded the lead several times over the next few minutes until a JaMichael Brown three gave the Generals a 50-48 lead with 12:00 left. After that point, the Wildcats went on its push to try to open some distance on the Generals as an Isaac Edmondson lay-up tied the score at 50-50 and started an 11-2 Bethel run that gave the Wildcats its largest lead of the contest at 59-52 when Noah Chatman split a pair of free throws with 9:23 left. LSUA cut that deficit down to three as Devin Jackson drained a transition three-pointer to make it 61-58 with 7:30 left, but the Wildcats answered with back-to-back buckets by Chatman to reestablish the seven-point lead with 5:50 left.
With the season on the brink, the Generals showed its mettle, starting the game-winning run with a 9-2 spurt, starting with a Brandon Ellis wing right three and culminating with an emphatic put back dunk by Phillip Rankin, Jr. with 3:15 left to tie the game at 67-67. Bethel’s Jerred Walker stunted the run for a moment with a straight-away three-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead right back. However, Brandon Ellis delivered a perfect bounce pass to William Claiborne, who was cutting down the lane for an easy lay-up on the ensuing Generals possession to start the decisive 8-0 mini-run that gave LSUA the lead for the remainder of the contest. JaMichael Brown’s free throws with 1:28 left put the Generals on top 71-70, and Phillip Rankin, Jr.’s pair of free throws with 28 seconds left gave LSUA a 75-70 lead and the Generals closed out the win at the stripe from there.
“We have to give glory to God first, and our players second,” said LSUA head coach Larry Cordaro. “Our guys did a great job battling back against a very tough and scrappy Bethel team. Bethel was able to turn us over and crashed the boards hard, but our guys never folded. We had to juggle some players around due to foul trouble, but we made it work and delivered at the free throw line at the right time. Now we have a quick turnaround tomorrow against one of two teams we played during last year’s tournament, so we have some familiarity with whichever team we draw in the quarterfinals. All of our main goals are still ahead of us.”
William Claiborne led LSUA by collecting his eighth double-double of the year with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Claiborne hit seven of his nine shot attempts and was eight of 13 from the free throw line, blocked a shot and was credited with a steal in the contest. JaMichael Brown flirted with a triple-double, finishing the contest with 19 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, as well as a steal. Devin Jackson was the final General in double figures in scoring with 12 points as he hit four of his eight shots in the contest, all from above the arc.
The Generals hit 45.1% of their shots in the contest while holding Bethel to just 30.6% as a team. Where Bethel (25-9) succeeding was limiting LSUA’s shot attempts as the Wildcats finished the game hitting 22 of 72 from the field while LSUA only had 51 attempts, though the Generals hit 23 of those. LSUA also hit three more shots from deep than Bethel did, 8-5, while both teams acquired 24 points from the charity stripe. Bethel was also aided by turnovers as the Wildcats forced the Generals into 20 turnovers, which turned into 19 Wildcat points. LSUA forced just ten Bethel turnovers and got 11 points off of those miscues.
#2 LSUA (30-3) hits the 30-win milestone for just the second time in program history, the first coming in the Generals’ 34-1 season of 2016-17, which ended in the NAIA Tournament’s Fab Four. The Generals will take on the winner of Friday afternoon’s second round contest between the Liston Bracket’s 2-seed, Lewis-Clark St., and 6-seed, William Penn. Tip-off of LSUA’s quarterfinal contest is set for 2:00 P.M. on Saturday at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium.