Final: (N1) William Penn 99, (S1) Evangel 91 | Final Stats
Records: Evangel (22-9); William Penn (30-1)
Site: Penn Gymnasium
By Eric Doennig
OSKALOOSA, Iowa – Despite whittling a 17-point, second-half deficit down to four in the closing minutes of its title-game matchup against top-seeded William Penn, Evangel saw its quest for a seventh Heart of America Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament crown come to end with a 99-91 setback to the Statesmen Monday evening at Penn Gymnasium.
Stephen Salvi and Cade Coffman combined to score 15 points for the Valor during a 21-8 scoring run that saw EU trim a 74-57 margin down to four points with just over five minutes to play.
But the Statesmen responded via a Q Cager layup, followed by a Karmari Newman three-pointer with 3:58 left on the clock to push the lead back to nine, then relied on its defense to keep the Valor at bay down the stretch.
Evangel, which shot 0.435 (30-of-69) for the night, was held without a field goal for over three minutes, allowing the Statesmen time to stretch their cushion back to double digits. The Valor got no closer than seven points the rest of the way
Salvi recorded his second 22-point performance of the tournament off the EU bench, while Edriel Martinborough knocked down 4-of-5 three-point attempts to match his 22-point effort.
Kevion Blaylock led six double-digit scorers for Penn with a 20-point performance to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds and four assists. Newman added 16 for the Statesmen, and Cager chipped in with 13 points, seven assists, and five steals.
The Heart Conference championship marks the third consecutive tournament title for the top-ranked Statesmen, who will now await word on their postseason draw along with the Valor, who earned the Heart's second automatic berth to the NAIA National Tournament and its first since 2015.
William Penn seized control of a tight first half with a string of seven unanswered points in the closing minutes of the period. After the Valor pulled to within 43-42 on a Coffman three-point play with 2:47 left on the clock, the Statesmen responded in a big way to take a 52-45 advantage into the halftime locker room.
Blaylock started the rally by converting a three-point play of his own, then added a dunk at the 1:09 mark to extend the Penn lead to eight points—the largest for either club in the opening 20 minutes of play.
The contest's first 17 minutes played out similarly to the two clubs' first meeting of the season in Springfield on January 29, when the Statesmen pulled out an 85-84 victory in a seesaw battle before WPU used an 8-0 spurt to grab a 16-10 lead.
But EU answered with seven straight points of its own, getting a Jace Coffie bucket and five points from Martinborough to reclaim the lead.
After trading the lead with the Valor several times over the ensuing eight minutes, the Statesmen gained control with a 7-1 run highlighted by a Josh Watkins three and the first of Blaylock's two critical dunks in the late stages of the half.
Blaylock led all scorers with 13 points in the opening stanza, as the Statesmen shot 0.543 (19-of-35) from the floor, including 6-of-14 from beyond the three-point arc, while forcing eight EU turnovers.
WPU picked up right where it left off at the onset of the second half, taking a 12-point lead on Malik Edwards' three-pointer with 13:08 to play, starting another 8-0 run that would ultimately hand the Statesmen their largest lead of the contest.
Penn cashed in at the foul line, converting 21-of-27 attempts at the stripe, paced by Blaylock's 8-of-9 effort. The Statesmen also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Valor by a 47-34 margin.
In addition to big games by Martinborough and Salvi, Coffman finished with 15 points and six rebounds, while Manrique Alvarado added 13 to go along with four assists.
More information on the NAIA National Tournament Selection Show and pairings will follow Tuesday on EvangelAthletics.com.
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