By Joseph Myers
For The Signal
KANSAS CITY, MO. – The Master’s University came into the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Tournament as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, but the Mustangs were bitten by the upset bug Wednesday night at Municipal Auditorium and their season is over.
Eighth-seeded Peru State (Neb.) knocked off The Master’s, 106-104, in overtime to advance to Friday’s second-round matchup against LSU Alexandria (26-7). It’s the first time the overall top-seeded team in the tournament has lost in the first round since 2009.
Peru State (22-13) wasn’t intimidated by the idea of playing the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, taking the game to The Master’s from the opening tip. The Bobcats used a 10-2 run to take control and open up a 19-11 lead following a 3-point play by Allias Roberts-Burnett with 10:48 to go before halftime.
The Mustangs (29-3) came back and got to within 23-22 after a dunk by Tim Soares with 6:51 left in the opening half, but Peru State – which qualified for the national tournament by earning the host Heart of America Conference’s host bid – scored 11 of the next 14 points to stretch its lead back out to 34-25.
A three-pointer by Darryl McDowell-White and a free throw from Brock Gardner got Master’s to within 38-33 with under 30 seconds remaining in the first 20 minutes, but LJ Westbrook buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the Bobcats into the locker room with a 41-33 advantage.
The Mustangs trailed by as many as 16 in the second half, at 55-39 following a layup by Quantice Hunter with 15:10 remaining. However, The Master’s scored 12 straight points to pull to within 55-51 after a putback by Michael Taylor.
The Bobcats never were able to land a knockout punch on the Mustangs as the second half wore on, as Master’s would get baskets when it needed them to stay close.
The Bobcats’ Andre Frazier-Stanley made a free throw with 4.8 seconds left in regulation to put Peru State ahead, 90-88, but he missed the second free throw and the Mustangs’ Lawrence Russell got the rebound, drove the length of the court and made a layup at the buzzer to tie the game at 90 and force overtime.
In the extra period, a three-point play by Brock Gardner with 1:45 to go gave Master’s its last lead at 98-97. The Bobcats reclaimed the advantage shortly after and the teams traded free throws over the final 90 seconds. Terry Moore Jr. made one free throw with 11.8 seconds remaining to make it 106-104 Bobcats and Master’s had a chance to tie the game, but missed its shot and was forced to bow out of the national tournament.
The overtime battle marked the first time in their last four appearances at the national tournament dating back to 1998 that the Mustangs didn’t win their opening-round game and is the first opening-round win for Peru State since 1962.
Russell finished the game with 27 points, seven rebounds and two steals to lead the Mustangs. Hansel Atencia finished with 21 and six assists, Gardner added 18 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots, Taylor pitched in 10 points and eight rebounds and Delewis Johnson had 10 and six rebounds before fouling out.
Hunter led all scorers with 30 points and four rebounds, Westbrook had 28, 12 rebounds and seven assists before fouling out in regulation, Frazier-Stanley netted 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, Moore pitched in 11 five rebounds and three steals and Nolan Cass had 11 and six rebounds for Peru State in the win.