Men’s College Basketball: St. Xavier tops Cincinnati Christian in NAIA Division II National Tournament opener
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media March 12, 2014 4:36PM
Updated: April 14, 2014 11:03AM
Up by as many as 20 points in the first half, and still ahead 51-33 with 15 minutes left in Wednesday’s NAIA Division II National Tournament opening-round game, St. Xavier seemed set to cruise into the Sweet Sixteen.
It turned out not to be so simple.
Cincinnati Christian put together a frantic rally to get to within 64-60 at the five-minute mark. Michael Simpson made sure it would get no closer.
Simpson, St. Xavier’s senior point guard, set a National Tournament record for most free throws without a miss, going 15-of-15 from the line, including 12-of-12 over the final four minutes to help the No. 7 seed Cougars seal an 87-71 win in Point Lookout, Mo.
“I think that was probably the best free-throw shooting of my life,” Simpson said in a phone interview. “Every practice, I stay after and shoot free throws. I always have the same routine. I just go up there with confidence.”
Simpson finished with 19 points for St. Xavier (30-4), which will take on 27-5 No. 10 seed Midland (Neb.) in a second-round game at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Jack Krieger led the Cougars with 22 points while Brad Karp added 15 points and nine rebounds.
“We played really well most of the first half,” St. Xavier coach Tom O’Malley said. “We had a bit of a lull in the second half where we let them come back at us, then we finished strong.
“It really helps when you have someone like Michael who you can put the ball in his hands and let him make free throws.”
While Simpson was getting it done at the line, the Cougars bucked down defensively just in time. After scoring 12 points in less than three minutes to get to within 64-60, Cincinnati Christian (19-14) came up empty on five straight possessions and found itself down 14 with 2:18 to go.
“We went from man-to-man to zone and played some tough defense when we needed it,” Krieger said. “We had guys come off the bench and do a good job. Everyone who came in gave us something — a steal, a rebound, something. Now all our nerves are out and we can just play.”
The Cougars raced to a quick 19-4 lead and were up 44-25 at halftime, shooting 21-of-40 from the field in the first half before going 3-of-17 after the break.
Tony Core (Tinley Park) and Josh Mawhorr chipped in nine points each for the Cougars.
Cincinnati Christian was led by D.J. McCommons (19 points) and Kenny Gaynor (16 points, 8 rebounds).