The defending national champion Concordia Eagles improved to 9-2 all-time in the NAIA First Round on Thursday morning, March 14, as they defeated No. 12-seed William Carey, 96-82, in the 76th annual Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship First Round from Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO. Concordia (23-10) will advance to the second round and play on Friday at 12:15 pm against Culver-Stockton (MO), who upset No. 5-seed Lewis-Clark State (ID).
"Today was a good team effort," said Concordia head coach Ken Ammann. "We played a very, very good team and I'm proud of our guys for closing it out. The first game is always the hardest."
Dakota Downs scored 20 points on seven-of-nine shooting, going six-of-seven from the line, and grabbed nine rebounds as the Eagles led wire-to-wire. Tim Harris added 21 points in his first NAIA Tournament action, hitting four threes while fighting foul trouble all game. Alex Rudd added 16 points, hitting two big threes, as his solid offensive play continued. Peter Smith scored 14 points, dished out a team-high seven assists, as he played 37 minutes, controlling tempo and battling the William Carey high pressure defense all game. Brandon Hucks grabbed five boards, as the Eagles were outrebounded by only two, 39-37. Concordia shot 44%, compared to 52% for William Carey. The difference was Concordia's 12 threes and 24 free throws, compared to three and 17 for William Carey. Concordia only turned the ball over 12 times against the high pressure defense, giving out 17 assists.
The Eagles came firing out of the cannon, scoring the first 13 points with a three and jumper from Harris, and four points from Downs. A three from Jywrell Wilson at 15:28 made it 16-2 Concordia. The Crusaders scored four straight to cut it to 10, but Smith responded with a three at 13:58. The teams went back and forth until Nolan Abernathy and Downs made back-to-back buckets to put Concordia up 17, 32-15, in what would be their largest lead of the game. William Carey scored 12 of the next 15 to cut it to eight, 35-27, with 5:55 left. Concordia held on to the 45-37 half time lead.
William Carey opened the second half with a three and free throw to cut it to four, and the game was on. After a Harris free throw, William Carey scored a layup to cut it to three. Downs responded with a layup and Harris made two free throws to put the Eagles back up, 50-43, three minutes into the second half. The Crusaders cut it down to four, 52-48, at the 15:32 mark, but DeLaun Frazier came back with a three for Concordia on the next possession. William Carey came back with four straight, but Harris nailed a jumper and three to put Concordia back up eight, and Downs followed with two freebies and a layup to put Concordia up 64-52 with 13 minutes left, their largest lead of the half. Four straight points from William Carey's Jamal Doss made it 67-61 with 8:58 on the clock. Rudd made a jumper and hit another three to make it 72-63 Concordia with 7:15 left. A technical foul on the William Carey coach gave Concordia four straight points and a 76-65 edge. A jumper from William Carey's Jeremiah Dunnings, who finished with 35 points, cut it to 82-77 with 2:14 left, as Frazier made a huge three on the possession before. Smith and Downs made four straight free throws and Concordia was back up nine. The Crusaders cut it to four, 86-62, with one minute left. Rudd made two big foul shots and Doss scored on the other end. Hucks and Smith went four-for-four on William Carey's last two fouls, and Concordia improved to 9-2 all-time in the first round with the 92-86 win.
The two teams combined to commit 52 fouls and shoot 62 free throws, both tournament highs. Dunnings scored a career high 35. William Carey ends their season at 25-6.
"Concordia is a good team and they shot the ball really well today," said William Carey head coach Steve Knight. "The experience of being out here so many times helped them early on. We regrouped and really got after them, but they made the shots they needed to down the stretch."
Concordia – The Eagles are making their 11th all-time appearance in the Division I Men's Basketball National Championship and improve to 24-9 in the event … Concordia has now advanced to the second round in five-straight tournaments, last losing in the opening round in 2008 … The Eagles are unseeded in the tournament for the first time since 1999, the first appearance in the history of the program … Concordia is one of four unseeded teams to have won thus far in the tournament.
William Carey – The Crusaders made their 9th appearance in the national tournament, but fell to 1-9 all-time in the event … William Carey returned to the event for the first time since 1997 when they lost to Hawaii Pacific in the opening round, 82-79 … The Crusaders' Jeremiah Dunnings was 11-for-11 from the free throw line, the second time this season he recorded that line from the charity stripe and third time he converted at least 10 free throws in a contest this campaign.