- Result: #5 Maranatha 85-78 #8 Kentucky Christian
- Venue: Davis Field House, Bob Jones University
- Attendance: 78
- Record: Sabercats are now 16-13, and 11-1 in NCCAA play
- Next Game for MBU: NCCAA National 5th-Place Game: Mar. 10 at 9 a.m. EST vs #6 Dallas Christian/#7 Portland Bible
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Micah Shepard's 33-point performance and an overall rejuvenated Sabercats showing have extended their 2017-18 postseason run by one more game.
With an 85-78 win over the defending NCCAA DII national runners-up Kentucky Christian, the Sabercats have earned a spot in the 5th-Place Game tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Eastern. MBU will face the winner of #6 Dallas Christian and #7 Portland Bible.
Neither team owned the opening minutes, and the play was refreshingly free-flowing to start things off. MBU's starting 5 did some acceptable work at both ends of the court, and the game was deadlocked at 15 after a Stephen Wilkerson jumper from 3-point range tied the game at the 12:00 mark.
Enter Shepard, who knocked down 3 consecutive shots from downtown to put the Sabercats in front for the first time in the game. Strong play in the paint from Matt Gill and Rob Sonnenberg kept things moving forward for the next few minutes, as the Sabercats climbed out to a 30-21 lead courtesy of the 3-point play from Gill.
A couple of steals and offensive boards in the ensuing possessions kept the momentum in the Sabercats' favor. Under the pressure of a 9-point deficit, KCU had seen enough of the momentum shift and called a timeout with 5:45 on the clock.
The Sabercats relied on their defense in the closing minutes of the half to seal the lead at the break. MBU limited Hayden Dunn, KCU's danger man, to just 9 points on 3-8 shooting in the opening act. Meanwhile, Shepard upped his tally to 20 points after going 7-11 from the floor and 4-6 from downtown. That 20-point mark matched Shepard's season-best for points in a single half.
At halftime, MBU held a 43-37 lead.
Two early points from Bryce Cashner jump-started the second half, but KCU quietly stayed within striking distance in the opening minutes. The pressure from Kentucky Christian paid dividends, as KCU took the lead back at the 13:15 mark with a 3-point jumper - 55-57. KCU owned the momentum for the next few minutes, but a crafty finish from David Lerma - followed by a big block from Justin Blake at the other end - gave MBU something to cheer about. Timeout: KCU.
Maranatha grabbed the lead back at 66-64 when Shepard knocked down another 3-pointer with 9:05 on the clock. With the lead in their hands, the Sabercats locked things down defensively, as they gave the Knights no clean looks. A big offensive board and finish from Gill restored the Sabercats' 6-point lead just 1 minute later.
The game had become wide open, and a high-intensity finish was on the agenda.
Shepard knocked down his seventh 3-pointer of the game with 3:45 on the clock to give the Sabercats a 4-point lead at 77-73 - it was probably Shepard's most important 3 of the game. From there, the Sabercats' defense came up big. A couple of key steals from Lerma upset the KCU offensive rhythm, and the Sabercats drew fouls from KCU in the closing minutes, making free-throw shooting absolutely vital.
With the pressure on, MBU made few mistakes, as they connected 6 of their 8 chances from the line to keep the Knights out of reach when it mattered most. It was the perfect blend of tight defense and patient offense for MBU, as the Sabercats consistently stole the ball back, drew fouls, and sealed the game from 12 feet.
Shepard hit the 30-points mark for the fourth time in his career.
Lerma finished with 12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 steals.
Cash was one board away from a double-double (14 pts, 9 reb).
Gill was one point away from a double-double (9 pts, 11 reb).
KCU's Hayden Dunn finished with 20 points.
MBU shot 44.1 percent from the field while KCU shot 42.2 percent.
Maranatha made 18 points from the line.
THE SOUND BITE
"It was great to get a national tournament win," said Coach Keith Salscheider after the game. "It was great to get a win against KCU, who almost beat the number one seed. It was great to bounce back from a sub-par performance in our first game. When we can do things consistently, we generally play well. We're excited about playing against Dallas Christian College tomorrow, and they are going to be just as tough as anyone we've played. We'll be looking to close things out by winning two out of three."
With the win, the Sabercats have earned a place in the 5th-place game tomorrow at 9 a.m. Eastern. MBU will play the winner of #6 Dallas Christian and #7 Portland Bible.
Catch the details of that game at mbusabercats.com/composite.