Kansas City, Mo. -- On Wednesday, Hope International made their debut in the Buffalo Funds NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship count with a win. They beat number 16 seed Emmanuel College 80-62. Junior Jeremy Kilgore scored a team high 20 points. Sophomore Austin Sanford scored 15 points while grabbing a game high 16 rebounds.
The Royals could not have started any hotter as they made their first four shots- Kilgore with a jumper along the right baseline, a steal and fast break layup for Freshman Garrett Neilan, a jumper by Senior Orlando Collins from the left side and then from straight away.
When Sanford grabbed an offensive rebound and kissed a shot off glass Hope International had built a 14-0 lead without even five minutes coming off the clock.
By half time, the Royals (26-7) had given back just one point of that lead as they went to the locker room with a 40-27 lead. They never allowed their advantage to get under into single digits in the first half.
As has been the case all season, Hope International held their lead thanks in large part to defense. They forced the Lions (28-5) into 14 first half turnovers keyed from six Hope International steals- Senior Kris Rosales had two of those steals.
Shooting wise, the Royals knocked down 56.3% of their first half shots while holding Emmanuel to 32% shooting.
Kilgore had 12 first half points on 6 of 10 shooting. Collins had 11 points at the break- making five of eight shots.
To begin the second half, Emmanuel used an 11-5 run to get within seven points at 45-38.
But HIU quickly answered over the next couple of minutes with Junior Randal Guillory providing the offensive spark as he buried two three pointers.
That provided the spark that the Royals needed to close the door and win their first ever game in the NAIA National Tournament.
In the second half, Sanford led the charge with eight points and an impressive 12 rebounds after the break. Guillory score all eight of his points in the second half. Kilgore also added eight points.
For good measure, the Royals shot 51.9% in the second half and kept the Lions under 40% shooting in the second half.
Head Coach Bill Czech stated, "We are honored to be here (at the NAIA National Tournament). We appreciate the invitation. We hope to represent our school by honoring Christ. Our guys had a great week of practice. They are extremely hard working and unselfish. They are making a team first sacrifice. Randal Guillory has hit maybe the three biggest shots in HIU history - the fall away three at The Master's and the two threes here tonight. Defensively, Guillory guarded one of their top players and locked him up. Sanford was just a monster. I got upset with him and he responded - the 16 rebounds speak for themselves. Collins had the hot start shooting and defensively held their best player, who averaged 14 points, to just two points."
Sanford commented, "I am proud of my team. We did a good job tonight. We played and stayed to the game plan and that is what won us the game. Emmanuel made big shots and got to the basket but we kept composure and did not give in. Our defense helped maintain the lead."
When asked about his 16 rebounds, Sanford added, "I don't think I ever grabbed more than 12 rebounds in a game - definitely not more than 15."
Next up for the Royals is game on Friday with top seeded Columbia (MO). The Cougars beat Oklahoma City 68-37. Tip-off is set in Municipal Auditorium at 6:15 pm (CDT)/ 4:15 (PDT).