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Lawrence Russell banked in a 3-pointer as he tumbled to the floor near The Master’s University’s bench Thursday night.

As the junior forward rose to his feet and hustled back on defense, Mustang coach Kelvin Starr reached out to swat him on the back for putting TMU ahead by eight points early in the second half.

The Mustangs had fallen behind by 12 in the first half of its NAIA national tournament first-round game at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri.

MORE: TMU women’s hoops’ even-keeled demeanor scores 1st round victory

But TMU made the most of its first appearance in the tourney since 2000 by storming back for an 85-56 rout of Benedictine of Kansas.

“All year we’ve done that,” Starr said of not panicking. “We stick to the process and believe (in) that and the numbers work themselves out.”

Thursday, the numbers evened out in TMU’s favor.

The Mustangs (27-4) shot 28 percent from the floor in the first half, and 47 percent after the break.

Benedictine shot 42 percent in the first half, and 22 percent from there.

“I felt like we’re in better shape so we wore them down more,” Starr said, praising the second-half defense of Evan Jenkins and Tim Soares and the hot shooting of Reid Shackelford.

Shackelford made a 3-pointer on three straight possession midway through the second frame to give TMU a 15-point lead, which only continued to grow.

The Mustangs led by 25 with four minutes to play.

Shackelford finished with a team-high 22 points, while Russell scored 21.

Soares recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. He added three blocks.

The Mustangs (27-4), a No. 2 seed, will play No. 3 seed Texas Wesleyan tonight at 5:30 p.m.

“They’re a very good defensive team,” Starr said. “They’re an athletic, downhill type of team. They’re not big, but they’re very athletic.”

The Mustangs entered the tournament with momentum, having won the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament for the first time in program history.

That roll was tested in Thursday’s first half, as tournament jitters got to the Mustangs.

Then TMU settled in, closing the half on a 23-8 run to lead 35-32 at the break.

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Mason Nesbitt
Mason Nesbitt is The Santa Clarita Valley Signal's Sports Editor.
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