Final: (S1) Evangel 78, (S3) Benedictine 74 | Final Stats
Records: Evangel (22-8); Benedictine (18-12)
Site: Ashcroft Center
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Evangel secured its 14th berth in the NAIA Men's Basketball National Tournament and advanced to the Heart of America Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament title game by edging Benedictine, 78-74, Friday evening after erasing a double-digit, second-half deficit for the second time in as many games in the tournament.
The Evangel victory, coupled with top-seeded William Penn's advancement to the tournament championship with its 92-81 semifinal win over Central Methodist Friday evening, clinches the Valor's automatic berth in the NAIA Men's Basketball National Tournament as the conference's No. 2 regular-season finisher. Additionally, EU advances to its first Heart Conference Tournament championship since 2015 and will meet the No. 1 Statesmen Monday (Feb. 28) evening at Penn Gymnasium in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Trailing by six points with just over six minutes to play, Evangel flipped the script on the Ravens by scoring 10 unanswered points over a span of just 1:46, then put the game on ice by sinking 7-of-8 free-throw attempts in the final three minutes.
Cade Coffman, who led EU with 17 points, connected on 6-of-6 attempts at the line during the late stages of the contest, and came up with one of three critical offensive rebounds by the Valor in the final 1:45 to help seal the outcome.
The hard fought victory for the Valor came in spite of a red-hot shooting performance by the Ravens, who buried 13-of-27 (0.481) attempts from three-point range, including 9-of-13 in the opening half to overcome a seven-point Evangel lead to take a 46-43 lead into halftime.
Both clubs opened the night with strong opening halves, combining to connect 12 times from beyond the arc in the first 12 minutes of the game. Evangel battled back from an eight-point deficit with the help of a 14-0 scoring spurt that was sparked by back-to-back three-pointers by Edriel Martinborough. A pair of Manrique Alvarado buckets put the Valor in front, before layups from Coffman and Josh Pritchett stretched the EU lead to 39-32 with 3:48 to play in the half.
But the Ravens responded in a big way, out-scoring the Valor by a 14-4 margin over the remainder of the period, then tallying the first seven points of the second stanza to seize their largest lead of the night at 53-43.
BC led by nine with just under 11 minutes left on the clock before Martinborough ignited another rally by the Valor. The senior sank his third triple of the contest to slice the gap to six points, before Coffman added a free throw and Pavel Antonov slammed one home off of a Martinborough feed to pull EU to within three points.
Benedictine answered on its ensuing possession with a three-point play by Eric Krus, and added a Chris Jackson layup to grab a 65-59 cushion with 6:20 to play.
Evangel, which rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit in Wednesday's quarterfinal-round victory over Mount Mercy, had a response of its own. Autry Acord canned a three to kick off the game's key stretch, then converted on a drive to the basket to pull EU to within one point. Coffman blocked a Jayden Temme shot, before draining a 19-footer at the 5:06 mark to hand the Valor the lead for good.
Pritchett connected from on a long three-point attempt to cap the run, before Krus was successful on a triple of his own to make it a 69-68 game. Coffman followed by hitting four straight free throws to give the Valor some much-needed breathing room.
Jaiden Bristol's trey with 1:16 to play kept the Ravens' upset bid alive, but Stephen Salvi delivered with a 12-foot floater in the paint to give EU a 75-71 edge.
Matt Austin was fouled in the act of shooting a three-pointer and sank all three charity tosses, but Martinborough came through with a tip off of a Coffman miss to clear an offensive board with 20 seconds to play. After hitting his first attempt at the foul line with 15 seconds left, Pritchett followed suit and tipped the ball to a fellow EU player to maintain the possession yet again.
Coffman, who also finished with seven rebounds and five assists, was fouled and calmly connected on two more free-throw tries to hand EU a four-point lead, and the Ravens misfired on two long-range attempts in the final 12 seconds to end the contest.
In addition to Coffman's clutch performance, Pritchett totaled 15 points and seven assists, while Martinborough added 13 and a team-high eight rebounds and Salvi chipped in with 10 points off the EU bench.
The Valor finished the night 12-of-30 (0.400) from beyond the arc and forced 14 BC turnovers, while committing just five of its own to register a 16-8 scoring advantage in points off of turnovers.
Krus led all scorers with 20 points, combining with Austin (17 points) to knock down 7-of-13 three-point attempts.
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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