Wildcats slam defending champs, move into NAIA quarterfinals

Culver-Stockton College forward Mario Gulley, right, shoots over Concordia’s Brandon Hucks during the Wildcats’ 97-85 victory in Friday’s second round of the NAIA Division I national tournament at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo for the H-
Posted: Mar. 15, 2013 6:16 pm Updated: Mar. 29, 2013 7:15 pm

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jermaine Jones probably hung on the rim about a half second longer than he should have.

Considering the circumstances, it was understandable.

The Culver-Stockton College junior forward took a feed from Austin Keaton and threw down a powerful right-handed dunk.

It capped a 14-5 run and put the Wildcats ahead by 10 points with under eight minutes to play in Friday's second round of the NAIA Division I national tournament at Municipal Auditorium. The Wildcats' lead never dipped below seven points the rest of the way as they claimed a 97-85 victory over Concordia (Calif.) to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

Jones had been 1 of 4 on dunk attempts — his lone successful attempt came on an awkward alley-oop and wasn't very authoritative — before his powerful jam.

"Once it goes through the rim, and I realize I just dunked the ball, especially if somebody is around me, I come down and I feel like I'm on top of the world," Jones said. "A dunk always gets me going."

This one got the entire team going.

"When he threw that down, that kind of gave us a little bit of separation," said C-SC senior guard Austin Keaton, who matched Concordia's Tim Harris for the game high with 25 points. "It was a big momentum shift for us."

It helped the Wildcats (26-8) continue their historic run. The program that won four games last season, hadn't had a winning campaign since 2004-05 and hadn't been to the national tournament since 1959 is now one win away from the final four.

"It was us against the world (this season)," Keaton said. "That's what our mentality was, and we were just going to try to shock everybody."

C-SC will face No. 13-ranked Georgetown (Ky.) at 4 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals. Georgetown advanced by beating No. 4 John Brown (Ark.) 80-67 on Friday.

In beating Concordia, the Wildcats took down the defending national champions.

"No matter who it was, we had to beat them to get where we needed to go," Keaton said. "Obviously beating the defending champs was a very big win for us."

Given the fact that the game featured two of the NAIA Division I's top-13 scoring teams, it was no surprise the teams combined to attempt 138 shots, including 64 3-pointers. The Wildcats benefited from a 43-32 advantage on the glass and 17-12 edge in free throws made.

The Wildcats opened the game on a 29-16 run that included four 3-pointers and a thunderous dunk from James Johnson.

The Eagles (23-11) then tightened up defensively and took a 41-40 halftime lead. C-SC committed eight first-half turnovers before turning the ball over just three times in the final 20 minutes.

"We started off on fire, but against good teams, you can't bury them in 10 minutes," C-SC coach Jack Schrader said. "They're a good team. They're tough. They've been here. They won it last year. They know how to win. I thought we got a little bit greedy, or fool's gold rushed. We missed a couple of defensive assignments on their shooters, and they got open looks on their sets. And it gave them a little bit of confidence."

Keaton made a layup 57 seconds into the second half to give C-SC a 44-43 lead after Marshawn Norris had generated a steal in the backcourt and dished to Keaton. Alen Hadzimahovic drained a 17-foot jumper on C-SC's ensuing possession to put the Wildcats up by three points, and C-SC never relinquished the lead.

Concordia's DeLaun Frazier made a 3-pointer to cut C-SC's lead to 60-59 with 11:49 to play before Hadzimahovic responded with his own trey to kickstart the pivotal run that ended with Jones' jam.

"We were just swinging the ball (in the second half)," Keaton said. "In the first half, we were kind of stagnant on offense. We were getting too one-on-one. But when we move the ball like we did in the second half and swing it a couple times and get the defense rotating and shuffling their feet, that's when we get going."

A day after C-SC put five players in double figures in a first-round win, the Wildcats again featured a balanced attack. Norris tallied 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Hadzimahovic had 19 points and eight rebounds. CJ Adams added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. Jones had a game-high 14 rebounds.

Keaton eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the 20th time this season. The more remarkable number though is the 26 wins for the Wildcats, whose top seven players are all first-year transfers.

"I'm beyond excited. I'm beyond happy," Jones said. "We sit in the rooms and on the bus and in the locker room after practice or after games, and that's what we say: ‘They won four games last year.' And we're at 26. That's a big difference."


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