GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Their first meeting was in 1971, and this year's rendition of the Maranatha-Kentucky Christian rivalry has nothing but pride on the line.
The two teams will square off tomorrow morning in the first consolation round of the 2018 NCCAA DII National Basketball Tournament. Neither team has a chance to win the title at this point. The winner of tomorrow's game will advance to the 5th-place game Saturday morning. For the loser, the season ends.
MBU earned their way to the tournament by winning the NCCAA North Region Championship. Kentucky Christian, on the other hand, was selected as an At-Large bid recipient despite failing to play in their regional championship game in the ever-competitive Mideast Region.
One key for Maranatha will be to clean up their possession and find the open man - two things that they struggled with this morning in the tournament opener. Understandably, the Sabercats have never lost when they have reached 20 assists in a game this season. MBU has reached that 20-assists mark 8 different times.
MBU's defense will have their hands full. They faced the best offense in the NCCAA DII today, and they will face the second-best offense in the division tomorrow - KCU averages 93.1 points per game in the season, and they have an NCCAA DII-best 1.45 assist/turnover ratio. The Knights have experience on their side, and they have the offensive game to match.
MBU will also have the tall task of guarding Hayden Dunn. The KCU danger man leads the entire NCCAA DII this year with 26.7 points and ranks second in the division with 10.3 rebounds per game.
Without their starting point guard, Jonathan Book, the Sabercats will look to fine-tune their Plan B in this game, with the ultimate hope of extending their stay in Greenville. As a side note, seniors Micah Shepard and Bryce Cashner will be especially motivated to extend the short remainder of their Maranatha careers.
Maranatha and KCU have met just 5 times since '71. KCU holds the advantage in the series, 3-2. The last time the two teams meet was in 2003 - the last time Maranatha qualified for the National Tournament. That day, Maranatha won, 72-57.
Catch the details of the game, including live video, at mbusabercats.com/composite.