March 16, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Master's University men's basketball team played a forgettable first half Thursday evening in a NAIA National Tournament first-round game against Benedictine of Kansas.
Turning things around with stellar effort at both ends of the court, the Mustangs played a final half to remember, at least for 24 hours, as they ran away from the Ravens 85-56 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
The Mustangs' eighth victory (27-4) in a row propelled them into a second-round matchup against No. 10 Texas Wesleyan on Friday evening.
Friday looked far-fetched for the Mustangs early on as they spotted the Ravens the game's first eight points and trailed by as many as 10 in, arguably, the club's worst first half of the season.
They shot just 28% (9-32) over the opening 20 minutes and seven of those field goals came from long distance as they used the three-point shot to get back into the game. Sophomore Hansel Atencia's trey with 14:25 left in the first half capped a 7-1 run that pulled the Mustangs within 9-7.
After the club fell behind 27-17 at the 7:02 mark, freshman Travis Yenor dialed up a three-pointer that ended a 3:30 scoring drought and sparked a 15-0 run in a 3:32 window, vaulting the Mustangs ahead 32-27. During the run, junior Lawrence Russell drained a three-pointer as did fellow All-GSAC performer Reid Shackelford, who had three trifectas in the first half.
On the other end of the offensive skein was a defense that held the Ravens without a point for over six minutes, forcing multiple turnovers and limiting Benedictine to just three shots in a 6:31 span. There would be more of that defense in the second half.
Keegan Scott hit another three-pointer with 19 seconds left and after the slow start, the Mustangs took a 35-32 lead into the break.
Shackelford (11) and Russell (10) combined for 21 points in the first half.
They would nearly duplicate that production during a dominant second half, but first the club was challenged in the locker room by head coach Kelvin Starr, who asked his club, "Are you going to give maximum effort?" The Mustangs responded by taking a firm grip on the game and cruising to the win.
It didn't happen right away, though, as the Ravens scored the first five points of the second half to move back in front 37-35 at the 19:07 mark. Following a couple of ties, the Mustangs used a Russell bucket to start a decisive 8-0 burst that put the club ahead to stay. Russell capped the run with a three-pointer and the Mustangs were up 47-39 with 14:51 remaining.
The lead reached double digits for the first time at 51-41 on an Atencia three-pointer less than a minute later (13:52). Then it was Shackelford's turn. The senior sharpshooter, who has now buried 99 three-pointers for the fourth-highest, single-season mark in program history, drained three straight treys, the last two igniting a 10-0 run. Timothy Soares' jumper capped the burst with 8:23 left to play, extending the lead to 66-47.
The Mustangs didn't let up, either, forging a 20-point plus lead (75-54) on a Russell basket with 4:53 remaining and enjoying their largest margin of the evening with the game's final points on a Kaleb Anderson basket at the 1:03 mark.
Just like they had done in the closing minutes of the first half, the Mustangs clamped down again on the Ravens in the game's final moments, allowing no points in the concluding 4:14 of play. The Mustangs limited Benedictine to just 22% (8-36) accuracy in the second half and 30.6% for the game.
That effort was not lost on Starr, who said the club "played great defense in the second half."
Meanwhile, after struggling so mightily in the first half, the Mustangs hit at a 47% (18-38) clip over the final 20 minutes and finished at 38.6% for the game.
Shackelford paced the Mustangs with 22 points, going 6-13 from behind the arc. Russell poured in 21 points on 8-16 shooting and Soares chipped in with 12 points and notched a double-double with a game-high 12 rebounds. Atencia did a wonderful job running the offense and leading the break, dishing out a game-high 11 assists.
Now, the Mustangs turn around quickly to face a Texas Wesleyan squad that beat Cumberlands (Ky.) 74-68 earlier in the day. Tip-off for Friday night's Top Ten showdown is 5:30pm PDT.