By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Culver-Stockton College men's basketball team continued to dance with the girl that brought the Wildcats to national stage, even when it would have been tempting to abandon the date.
Despite starting 1 of 18 from 3-point range, the Wildcats continued to fire away from distance. When the bombs finally started falling, No. 5-ranked Lewis Clark State (Idaho) couldn't keep pace.
The Wildcats drained nine second-half 3-pointers and claimed a 91-72 victory Thursday afternoon at Municipal Auditorium in the first round of the NAIA Division I national tournament.
"That's what got us here," said C-SC senior guard Austin Keaton, who scored a game-high 25 points. "We're here for a reason. We can shoot the ball, and we can score a lot of points. That's all we could think of."
The victory was C-SC's first in the national tournament since 1946 and moves the Wildcats into the round of 16.
C-SC (25-8) will face Concordia (Calif.) at 2:15 p.m. Friday. Concordia improved to 23-10 after upsetting No. 12 William Carey (Mass.) 92-86 in the first round.
The Wildcats led 44-38 after Keaton drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 13 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the second half. It started a 3-point barrage.
A 3-pointer from Marshawn Norris and two more from Keaton pushed C-SC's lead to 53-45. The Wildcats, who average 31.8 3-point attempts per game, wound up going 10 for 30 from 3-point range.
"That's just staying true to ourselves," said Norris, C-SC's senior point guard who tallied 18 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and six steals. "We don't want to start doing things out of our element. We feel like we're a 3-point shooting team, and when we're making shots, we're the best team in the country in our opinion."
Keaton led the second-half outburst. He finished 7 of 14 from beyond the arc and helped turn a game that Lewis-Clark led 30-28 at halftime into a rout.
Keaton scored all 25 of his points in the second half as the Wildcats set a season high for points in a half with 63.
"Mario Gulley, he calls us a second-half team," Norris said, referring to C-SC's junior forward. "I was optimistic that he was right today, and he was."
Keaton and Norris led a balanced effort. CJ Adams scored a season-high 15 points. Alen Hadzimahovic was 5 of 6 from the field and netted 13 points. Jermaine Jones scored 11.
P.J. Bolte's 19 points and 11 rebounds paced Lewis-Clark (26-6).
The Wildcats outrebounded the Warriors 42-36. Lewis-Clark entered the game with the nation's best rebounding margin.
"That was big for us to rebound and play defense, especially in the first half," Norris said.
C-SC made 62.1 percent of its second-half field-goal attempts.
Even with the cold shooting the Wildcats experienced in the first half, C-SC coach Jack Schrader said he didn't instruct his players to make much of a change to their offensive approach.
"All we did was keep the attack mode individually, but if you didn't feel comfortable, just make one more pass until we found our rhythm," Schrader said of the Wildcats' minor adjustment. "That's basically all we did."
C-SC started the game on a 15-6 run before Lewis-Clark countered with a 14-4 run to take a 20-19 lead. The Wildcats' three scoring leaders — Norris, Keaton and James Johnson — combined to go 2 of 23 from the field in the first half.
Nine first-half points from Adams and six from Jones helped the Wildcats hang close until Keaton found his shooting stroke.
"It wasn't pretty at first, but we hung around the game in the first half and gave ourselves a chance in the second half to play basketball like we can," Keaton said. "That's what we did."