No. 2 Generals withstand comeback to advance in NAIAs

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Kansas City, Mo. – The #2 LSUA men’s basketball team built up an 18 point second half lead and held off a furious last minute rally by Central Baptist to move on to the second round of the 82nd Annual NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament, defeating the Mustangs 81-74 in the first round contest Wednesday afternoon at the Municipal Auditorium.

The Generals tried to get away early jumping out to a quick six point lead off of a JaMichael Brown put LSUA up 10-4 just less than four minutes into the contest. But it wouldn’t be that easy for the Generals to get away from the Mustangs as Quentre Roberts hit a three-pointers on Central Baptist’s next possession to cut the LSUA lead in half.

That three was the start of a 14-4 Mustang run that gave Central Baptist its largest lead of the game on a Demond White bucket that made the score 18-14 CBC. LSUA wouldn’t let that go unchallenged, going on a large run of its own, a 14-3 Generals push which gave LSUA its largest lead of the first period as Malek Harris drove and scored to made the score 28-21 Generals with six minutes remaining before halftime. But it would be that Mustangs that finished the first half on a push, closing out the period on an 11-6 run to close the deficit as Tyrone Alston’s free throws made the score 34-32 LSUA as the two teams went off to the halftime locker room.

After trading two pointers to open the second half, LSUA went on its extended run that seemed to blow the game wide open. William Claiborne passed out of the post to Devin Jackson, who had popped open above the arc, and Jackson drained the three-pointer to give the Generals a 39-32 lead and start the 29-14 LSUA run that ended with a Phillip Rankin, Jr. lay-up that made it 65-47 Generals with 8:30 left in the contest.

However, after the two teams traded buckets over the next few possessions, Central Baptist made its furious rush to get back into the game and try to steal the win from the Generals as Percell Washington hit a pair of free throws that made the score 69-53 LSUA with 6:26 left and started the 16-4 Mustang run, which culminated with a put back by Washington off of a Mustang miss that made it 73-69 Generals with still three minutes remaining.

On LSUA’s ensuing possession, Malek Harris got some semblance of calm back in the LSUA side as he drained a straight away three-pointer to bump the lead back up to seven. Central Baptist would cut it back down to four point two more times over the next minute-plus, but the Generals always had a response to keep the Mustangs at bay, including three of four free throws by Brandon Ellis inside the final 40 seconds to close the game out.

“It was a good game in that we got to knock off some rust, having only played one game over the last two weeks, and get some Kansas City experience,” said LSUA head coach Larry Cordaro. “You have to credit Central Baptist for never giving up and continuing the play hard regardless of the score. They never went away, we just need to do a better job of closing out games. Big William Claiborne continued to dominate the paint and we have to find ways to continue giving him the ball. We have a long way to go, but we get to rest tomorrow and have to be ready for an early contest on Friday. We will have to play tough and be very determined to keep this run going.”

William Claiborne was a force inside for the Generals, finishing with nine makes on 12 attempts for a team-high 20 points. He also contributed nine assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot in the win. Phillip Rankin, Jr. went eight of 11 to finish with 16 points to go with eight rebounds. JaMichael Brown showed his ability to get to the rack, going six of 16 in the contest for 13 points, a team-high seven assists, four rebounds, and a steal. Malek Harris was LSUA’s final double-figure scorer with ten points on three of four shooting, also going two of two from the above the three-point arc.

LSUA shot 61.3% in the second half to finish the contest shooting at a 54.0% clip as a team with most of the shots coming in close to the basket as the Generals finished the game with 54 points in the paint. It was an off-night shooting from deep for LSUA as the Generals hit five of their 18 attempts from above the three-point arc. LSUA also made just eight free throws on the night in 14 attempts. The Generals defense held Central Baptist (22-11) to 42.4% from the field in the second half as the Mustangs finished the game hitting on 46.6% for the entire contest. The Mustangs also hit on seven of 22 shots from above the arc and 13 of 22 from the free throw line.

The Generals out-rebounded the Mustangs 35-28, held a 19-10 advantage in points off turnovers, 54-36 advantage in points in the paint, 17-4 lead in second chance points, and 25-6 points from bench players.

No. 2 LSUA (29-3), the top seed in the Liston Bracket, advances to the second round for the fourth straight season where the Generals will take on #18 Bethel University. The Wildcats (25-8), who are the Liston Bracket’s five seed, advanced to the second round with a 77-57 win over John Brown University’s in the Tournament’s opening game Wednesday morning. Tip-off between the Generals and Wildcats is set for 10:45 A.M. on Friday at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium.

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