NAIA Men’s DI Basketball: Emmanuel (Ga.) 68, St. Thomas (Texas) 56

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) No. 8-seeded Emmanuel (Ga.) tipped off the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship with a 68-56 win over St. Thomas (Texas).

The Lions will take on the winner of No. 9-seeded Rocky Mountain (Mont.) and Cumberlands (Ky.) on Friday, March 21 at 9 a.m.

Emmanuel was led by Michael Stanley with 23 points and nine rebounds, while both Adrian Justice and Patrick McCrary chipped in with 12 points and combined to convert 11 of 19 field goal attempts. Luke Miller also contributed 11 points as he knocked down three shots from three-point range.

“I’m excited for our guys to get their first win in the tournament,” said Emmanuel head coach T.J. Rosene. “I thought they were really nervous last year, but that experience helped them to come out and play confident today.”

After allowing the opening basket of the game, the Lions ran off 14-straight points on the way to a 22-6 advantage at the 12:46 mark of the first half. Following a turnover and two missed shots on its first three possessions, Emmanuel made six of its next eight shots from the field.

St. Thomas recovered from the Lions’ surge and closed to within five points late in the half thanks to nine straight points over 4:07. A three-pointer by Deric Dudley brought the Celts to 28-23 before Stanley finished the half with a basket inside to give Emmanuel a 30-23 lead at intermission.

The Celts got within three points on two occasions early in the second half before Emmanuel put the game away with a 17-0 run. Stanley hit back-to-back three-pointers as the Lions pushed the lead to as much as 22 points before settling for the 12-point victory.

“We were here last year for the first time, and I challenged these guys to be a tough team and didn’t expect them to match last year’s record coming in,” said St. Thomas head coach Todd Smith. “I’m real proud of their effort and couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”

Emmanuel shot 55.3 percent (26 of 47) from the field, including an eight-for-15 clip (.533) from three-point range. The Lions also converted 14 of 17 free throws while limiting St. Thomas to 46.2 percent shooting (24 of 52). The Lions held a 27-24 rebounding advantage while both teams committed 15 turnovers.

Dudley tallied a team-best 21 points to go along with three assists for St. Thomas and hit four of six three-point attempts. Bryan Kaase chipped in with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Nate McAnelly added 11 points.

St. Thomas finishes its season with a record of 20-11.

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