Fullerton, CA- With the game tied at 53-53 and seconds remaining, Junior Garrett Neilan drove hard to the basket and laid in the game winner as Hope International upset No. 9 Vanguard 55-53 on Saturday. Neilan finished with an HIU high of 19 points. Vanguard's Preston Wynne was the leading scorer in the game with 22 points.
The game started out as a back and forth affair as the Lions (22-5, 9-3 GSAC) used a basket from DeAngelo Jones to grab a 2-0 lead. Neilan then gave the Royals (18-9, 6-6 GSAC) a 3-2 edge with his first three pointer of the night. VUSC's Chris Gorman answered right back with a three of his own to push Vanguard back in front.
Wynne gave the Lions a five point lead when he connected on his first three pointer of the night with 15:48 to play in the first half. That turned out to be their largest lead of the game.
Two plus minutes later, HIU had twice climbed back within one.
At the 11:32 mark, Junior Carlton Hayes took a feed from Sophomore Tuff Barnes and put home two points in the paint to give Hope International an 11-10 edge. That turned out to give HIU the lead for the remainder of the first half. They extended the lead to as large as nine points before the half came to a close. The teams headed to the locker room with HIU up 31-26.
Neilan was the only player on either team to score in double figures (11 points) in the first 20 minutes of play.
The Lions closed the gap to just one with just under 14 minutes to go in the game.
Having never built larger than a five point second half lead, HIU let VUSC climb right back into the contest. In fact, at the 3:38 mark and then with 16 seconds left the Lions tied the score at 48-48 and then 53-53.
That set up the dramatic finish.
Neilan just a few steps inside the half court line, saw an opening on the left side of the paint, put his head down, drove hard with the left hand, and finished with a layup off the back board.
Vanguard's desperation three missed everything and went straight out of bounds as time expired to finalize the upset win for Hope International.
Junior Matt Green with 10 points was the only other Royal beside Neilan to reach double figures. For the Lions, Wynne was joined by Keith Mason (14 points) and Gorman (11 points). That Vanguard trio accounted for all but six of the entire point total for the Lions.
HIU topped VUSC in rebounding 42-40. Hayes played a big part in that stat as he pulled down a game high 12 rebounds.
The teams were fairly equal across the board but the difference in the game can be accounted for at one place- the free throw line. The Royals did not wow the socks off anyone shooting just 60 percent. But the Lions shot just 43.8 percent from the charity stripe.
Head Coach Bill Czech stated, "I am really happy with Jeremy Kilgore and his mental toughness as he was really latched on to and was guarded by tough defenders. He remained mentally tough even with Preston Wynne drilling threes from 4-7 feet beyond the line. A lot of this win had to do with his will and desire. He has been like that all four years and this was really a special night for him. Neilan made a beautiful play driving to his left and making that game winning shot. That was something special. Could not be happier with our guys and really appreciate the fans and students coming out- they gave us a major, major lift. Vanguard is a very good team and very well coached. We feel fortunate to come out on top."
The Royals will make their way down to El Cajon on Tuesday to meet up with San Diego Christian. The Lions will host The Master's in Costa Mesa on Tuesday. Both games will start at 7:30 pm.