TMU Insider: Mustangs basketball teams gearing up for NAIA tournaments

TMU's women's basketball team opens NAIA national tournament play Wednesday in Billings, Montana, against No. 1 seed Freed-Haldeman (Tennessee). Photo courtesy of Darcy Brown

It’s all a matter of perspective.

The Master’s University men’s basketball team is a No. 1 seed in this week’s NAIA national tournament, but the Mustangs are wary of overlooking their first-round opponent.

TMU’s women’s basketball team plays a No. 1 seed in the first round, but it refuses to chalk the game up as a long shot.

“Right now everyone is 0-0,” said Master’s women’s coach Dan Waldeck. “What you’ve done up to this point or in past seasons, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a series. It’s one game. You have to go compete in one game.”

Master’s (19-10), a No. 8 seed in the NAIA Division 1 Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament, plays Freed-Hardeman University (29-4) from Tennessee on Wednesday in Billings, Montana.

Freed-Hardeman knocked Master’s out of last year’s national tournament in the second round, 79-58, on the strength of forward Kim Mallory (28 points, 19 rebounds) and guard Taleeah Cross (22 points, eight assists).

The Lions again feature a dynamic post-guard duo. This time it’s Mallory paired with junior Sandrea Sylman – the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points a night.

The Lions are the nation’s 12th highest-scoring offense and its stingiest defense.

They allow 48.6 points per game.

“They’re veterans,” Waldeck said. “Their best players are juniors and seniors. They’re extremely well-coached, and they’re the best defensive team in the country.”

Sophomore Hannah Forrar has led Master’s in scoring (13 points a game) during a season that’s seen the Mustangs mature with every contest.

Waldeck said recently he felt TMU played its best basketball yet during this month’s Golden State Athletic Conference tournament. The Mustangs beat a ranked Menlo College squad before losing to No. 4 Westmont College by nine.

Master’s plans to carry the momentum over into its sixth straight NAIA tournament appearance. Tip-off on Wednesday is set for 3 p.m. PST.

TMU’s men also open Wednesday, but with a different start time, setting and context.

The Mustangs (29-2) are the No. 1 overall seed in the NAIA Division 1 national tournament. At 6:15 p.m. PST in Kansas City, Missouri, TMU will take on Peru State (Nebraska), an eight seed that’s beaten highly-touted William Penn (Iowa) twice this season and as recently as last week.

“Any team in this tournament is good enough to beat you,” said TMU coach Kelvin Starr, who characterized Peru State as an offensively explosive bunch headlined by two big-time guards.

It’s not hard to see why.

Senior Quantice Hunter ranks fourth nationally in points per game with a little over 22, and senior James Westbrook is averaging better than 17 points a night.

“The key is staying in front of them,” Starr said.

The Bobcats average 85.8 points per game as a team, 15th highest in the country.  But they also allow 85.6 points, which could spell a barn burner.

Master’s scored the fourth-most points per game in the NAIA (92.8) on its way to the first regular-season GSAC title in program history and its second-straight conference tournament title.

The Mustangs have sought to hang their hat on defense, though. TMU allows 72.3 points per game, a top-25 mark in the NAIA.

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