With the lights turned on, the Patriots held off the strong charge of the #5 Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) Lions in the first round of the 2014 Buffalo Funds NAIA National Tournament.
The SAGU Lions came into the contest with the Patriots following a 2013 run to the national championship game, where they fell against Mid-South Conference member Georgetown College 88-62. Following a charged run to open the contest by the Lions, Nick Porter (Owensboro, Ky.) and William Tolefree (Stone Mountain, Ga.) drilled a pair of three point baskets to cut the Lion lead to one at 10-9. The precision shooting, sparked a Patriot run that propelled them on a run capped off by a steal from Omar Skinner (New Castle, Del.) that led to two free throws and a 17-14 Patriot lead.
The Patriots continued to build when Raymon Austin (Cleveland, Ohio) set a stellar screen to allow Chris Johnson (Bowling Green, Ky.) to get three the old fashioned way, taking a 20-14 lead. With 12 minutes remaining in the first half, Raymon Austin grabbed the defensive board and went coast to coast in wild fashion to split two Lions and find the bottom of the basket for a 26-14 lead. With 9:19 remaining Nick Porter picked the Lions’ pocket dishing up to Omar Skinner who slammed it home to push the lead to 30-20. Following a short Lions’ run, Stephen McCray (Baltimore, Md.) tickled the twine from behind the arc to push the lead to 35-24. With four minutes remaining, McCray continued to punish the Lion defense, hitting two step back jumpers to push the lead to 42-30. The Lions pushed back again, but Chris Johnson would find Julito Hutchinson (Atlanta, Ga.) for two and then fake out a defender on the next possession, finding three more for himself to grab a 51-38 lead. With the seconds running out in the half, William Tolefree would find the bottom of the net once more from behind the arc to send the Patriots into the locker room with a 54-44 lead.
With the beginning of the second half, the Patriots picked up where they left off when a quick layup from Taron Franklin (Philadelphia, Penn.) pushed the Patriot lead to 58-47. Following a missed Lion’s foul shot, Julito Hutchinson snagged a hard fought rebound, leading to a perfect combo of free throws. The Lions would prove that there were still alive, stringing together a short run, only to be halted by another Hutchinson free throw. However, the Patriots would turn the ball over on three straight possessions to allow the Lions to cut the lead to five with 13 minutes remaining. After a scoring drought, Raymon Austin took charge, finding his way to the line. After Austin made one of two, William Bailey (Valley, Ala.) grabbed the offensive board over a pride of Lions to earn his way to the stripe.
Following a missed Patriot three, Omar Skinner would grab the board and find Bailey on the reverse, to push the lead to 76-67. After trading blows for several possessions, Raymon Austin would fight his way to the basket and earn two points from the strip to give the Pats an 89-79 advantage with 3:51 remaining. However, the Lions would take advantage of untimely Patriot turnovers to cut the lead to five with only 3:40 remaining. Fortunately for the Patriots, William Bailey sparked life into the purple squad pushing the lead to 93-84 with 2:31 remaining. With 2:23 remaining and the Patriots leading 94-86, William Tolefree would earn his fifth foul, giving the Lions two free throws. Fortunately for the Patriots, the Lions would commit a lane violation to erase one free throw only cutting the lead to 94-87. William Bailey would answer the call for the Patriots on the next possession to find pay dirt and spread the gap back to eight. With under a minute remaining, the Patriots would turn the ball over once more to allow the Lions to cut the lead to 97-93. After the Lions cut the lead to two with 13 seconds remaining, the Patriots would turn the ball over on an inbound pass to allow the Lions the opportunity to take the lead. After a missed three pointer from the corner Julito Hutchinson snagged the rebound and made his way to the free throw line with the Lions trying to extend the game. Following two missed free throws from Hutchinson, Rambo took the ball coast to coast only to have Raymon Austin send his shot into the cheap seats, sealing the Patriots win 99-97.
“I told our guys that they would make a run” said Head Coach JT Burton. “It just happened to be really late.” The Patriots turned the ball over a dismal 33 times, a number that was higher than their number of field goals (31). “We have to take better care of the ball” said Burton. “I just kept telling the guys to drive and get to the line, but we have to be better.” The Patriots shot an impressive 75% from the line, but missed the two crucial shots at the end that couldn’t have come at a worse time. “I couldn’t believe that I missed those shots” said Julito Hutchinson, who had an impressive 5-8 day at the stripe. “I’m just glad that Ray [Austin] had my back in the end by blocking that shot.”
The Patriots will advance to the second round of the tourney where they will face the winner of Xavier and Hope International at 9:45 CST tomorrow night. You can follow the Patriots on twitter by using @GOSCPATRIOTS or on the web at NAIA.org.