Fullerton, CA - No. 25 Hope International and No. 10 Concordia staged a thriller on Saturday with the Royals holding on for a 66-64 win over the Eagles. Sophomore Garrett Neilan came up huge with a game high 21 points. Junior Carlton Hayes reached double-double status with 11 points and a game high 10 rebounds.
The first five and an half minutes of the contest belonged to the Eagles (14-4, 1-1 GSAC) as they built an 11-4 edge. The Royals (14-3, 2-0 GSAC) could not buy a basket in that time frame as all of their shots were off line. The four HIU points all came from the free throw line.
Senior Jeremy Kilgore finally broke through for the first HIU basket nearly seven minutes into the game.
After surrendering 11 points in the first five plus minutes, HIU turned the half around with defense as they allowed Concordia just 17 more first half points. Meanwhile, Hope International cashed in 31 points offensively to create a 15 point swing – down eight to up seven- before the break.
Neilan gave the Royals their first lead of the game following a jumper at the 7:14 mark and a 21-20 edge. One minute later, Neilan gave Hope International the lead for good in the half with another two points.
At the break, with HIU ahead 35-28, Neilan was the only player in the game to reach double digits in the first 20 minutes. His 13 points came on the strength of 5-7 shooting from the field. Concordia's Donnell Phifer was just getting warmed up as well as he finished the half with a Concordia high nine points.
Seven minutes into the second half, Sophomore Tuff Barnes nailed a free throw which gave HIU their largest lead of the game (11 points).
But Concordia would not go away quietly.
From the Barnes free throw, the Eagles outscored the Royals 16-5 over the course of six plus minutes to knot the game at 51-51. Two minutes later, Concordia moved ahead for the first time in the second half on a three pointer from Justin Davis.
After an exchange of baskets and Concordia in front again, Hayes converted a layup to move HIU back on top with just over three minutes left in the game.
HIU would extend their lead to five with 83 seconds to play.
However, in about 40 seconds Concordia shaved off four of those points. A potential lead taking shot by Concordia resulted in one of the wildest finishes of missed tip-in attempts, volleyball rebounds, and several attempts just rolling off the cylinder. Kilgore finally secured an actual rebound and converted both free throws to provide the game winning cushion.
Behind the 21 points from Neilan (who finished the night making 8-15 field goals), Kilgore and Hayes were next for HIU with 11 points apiece. Phifer poured in 10 of his 19 points for Concordia after the break. Montreal Harris also reached the 11 point mark for Concordia.
Odd fact of the night- both teams were 22-32 from the free throw line.
Head Coach Bill Czech said, "Concordia is one of the most dominant teams in the all of the NAIA. Coach (Ken) Ammann has been a good friend and we have the utmost respect for them. I am extremely happy with our handling of the initial rush and battling through that and staying together as a team. We have some very, very unselfish guys on this team and when we got down the bench came to live and carried our guys. (Garrett) Neilan and (Carlton) Hayes were very good tonight. Jeremy (Kilgore) was a real stopper on the defensive end- shutting down key players on their team. It was a fun atmosphere and we probably would not have won without the support of the Royal Rowdies (along all the alumni in attendance)- they are a major part of our success."
Come Tuesday, Hope International will find themselves facing Arizona Christian in Phoenix for a 7:30 pm game. Concordia will host The Master's at the same time.