Final: (S1) Evangel 71, (N4) Mount Mercy 63 | Final Stats
Records: Evangel (21-8); Mount Mercy (16-14)
Site: Ashcroft Center
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Led by Stephen Salvi's 16 second-half points, Evangel used a 13-2 scoring run in the closing minutes to outlast Mount Mercy, 71-63, Wednesday in the quarterfinal round of the Heart of America Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at the Ashcroft Center.
Trailing by a dozen points with just over eight minutes to play, the Valor turned to its defense to find the spark it needed to shift the momentum in its favor. EU held the Mustangs without a field goal for over seven minutes and outscored the visitors 28-8 down the stretch by knocking down 13-of-15 second-half free-throw attempts.
With its first victory in Heart Tournament play since 2015, Evangel advances to the semifinal round on Friday (Feb. 25), when it will host Benedictine in a 6 p.m., matchup.
Salvi keyed the late surge, registering a perfect second-half shooting performance by going 4-for-4 from the field, while sinking all six of his attempts from the charity stripe after intermission to finish with a game-high 22 points.
Edriel Martinborough, who added a team-high seven rebounds and five assists, played a pivotal role in the comeback as well, tallying 12 second-half points after being held scoreless in the opening period. His bucket in the paint with 8:48 left in regulation started Evangel's critical run, during which he combined with Salvi to score 21 of the Valor's 28 points. In total, the duo accounted for 28 of EU's 42 second-half points.
After a Bailey Basala dunk momentarily stretched the Mount Mercy lead back to 10 points, Salvi and Martinborough teamed up to score the Valor's next nine points to slice the margin to two points with 4:54 to play. Josh Pritchett nailed a short jumper to pull EU to within 61-60, then fed a cutting Salvi for the go-ahead bucket with 2:10 to play.
Mount Mercy's lone basket in the final 7:17 of the contest came after the Valor had built a six-point cushion courtesy of five successful free-throw attempts. In all, Evangel connected on a season-best 20-of-22 (0.909) free throws, led by Salvi's 8-of-8 performance at the stripe.
Defense was the name of the game early in the contest as well, as neither offense could find a consistent rhythm in the opening half. Evangel opened the night hitting just seven of its first 24 attempts from the floor, but caught fire midway through the first period with a 7-0 scoring spurt to grab a six-point lead. Autry Acord buried a three-pointer from the left wing to start the run, before Salvi scored four straight points off the EU bench to stake the Valor to an 18-12 lead.
The Mustangs responded with their best offensive stretch of the half, scoring nine of the next 11 points to claim a 21-20 edge on Lavaris Duncan's basket with 4:35 left on the clock.
After trading the lead three times over the next minute, Pavel Antonov scored the final five Evangel points of the half to send the Valor to the locker room with a 29-27 advantage. Antonov led all scorers with 13 first-half points.
Mount Mercy appeared poised to pull away for an upset victory over the Heart South Division champions, using a 16-3 outburst to grab an 11-point lead less than seven minutes into the second half. Three-pointers by five different Mustangs in the first 11 minutes of the half ultimately paved the way to a 55-43 MMU lead after Duncan poured home five straight points after the Valor had trimmed the gap to six points.
But Salvi and Martinborough sparked the Evangel offense, while the Valor defense was surging at the right moment as well. EU held Mount Mercy to 2-of-10 shooting over the final 9:33, forcing six turnovers during the same span to turn the tide for good.
In addition to the critical second-half performances from Salvi, Martinborough, Cade Coffman added 14 points on the night, while Pritchett handed out eight assists. Antonov finished with 13 points and blocked three shots to become just the fourth player in program history to reach the 100-career blocks plateau.
Anthony Horton Jr., led the Mustangs with 16 points, and Royshawn Webb pulled down 10 boards to help MMU outrebound the Valor, 37-32.
Evangel will continue its quest for its seventh Heart Conference Tournament title Friday (Feb. 25) evening against Benedictine at the Ashcroft Center. Tickets for the semifinal round are now available online at EvangelAthletics.com/Tickets.
For the latest information on Evangel Athletics, visit Facebook at Facebook.com/EvangelValor, Twitter (@EvangelValor), or EvangelAthletics.com. Fans can also receive updates on their favorite EU teams by downloading the Evangel Athletics Gameday App through the App Store or Google Play.
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