SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Mount Vernon Nazarene men’s basketball marked their return to the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament in style on Thursday evening, defeating No. 18 Montreat (N.C.) 76-63 to advance to the Round of 16 on Friday.
Montreat caught fire to begin the game, scoring the first seven points, with five from Austin Butler leading early. Jeremiah Roberts (SR/Toledo, OH) stopped the early run with a three, and Jacob Paul (JR/Canton, OH) scored on the next possession to slash the lead to 7-5. The Cougars shored things up defensively, and Jordi Mas(SR/Barcelona, Spain) hit a hook shot to tie the game up at 7-7 after four minutes of play.
Montreat scored the next six points in the paint, until Jevon Knox (SO/Marysville, OH) broke the run with his first points of the contest. Trailing by six, the Cougars got two straight buckets from Austin Jones (JR/Cincinnati, OH), cutting the lead to two points. Roberts tied the game back up after a stop, getting a tough look to go in the paint, but was answered by Alonzo Mobley as the Cavaliers held a 17-15 lead with 8:38 to go.
Jevon Knox would get back in the game at that point and hit a three, giving MVNU their first lead of the game at 18-17. Brett Vipperman (SR/Ashland, OH) followed with a three on the next possession to push the Cougar lead to four, and Knox knocked down a jumper to make the lead 23-17 and force a Cavaliers timeout. After a frantic scramble on the other end, Knox was fouled and hit one of two free throws to make the lead seven. Jordan Hemphill stopped the bleeding with a put-back on a Mobley miss, but Roberts hit another tough shot in the paint to make the lead seven again.
Jordi Mas hit a shot on a spin move to put MVNU up nine points at 29-20, and was answered by Nicodemus Payne on the other end. Montreat then forced a run-out off a turnover, but a heads-up play by Jacob Paul got a steal on Payne’s pass across the lane, and Jones would get a put-back to make the lead nine again. Hemphill answered to cut the lead to seven again, but Mas would score again, shaking off Payne’s defense for another hook shot to make the lead 32-23. Eric Reed hit a shot late in the period for Montreat, but Knox’s elbow jumper would cancel out the score and send the Cougars to halftime up 34-25.
Austin Butler got the second half started with a three for Montreat, followed by Terrell Sheffey cutting the lead to four with free throws. Knox responded for MVNU, slashing through the lane for two, but Hemphill got a shot to go over Vipperman to again make the MVNU lead four. Jones knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead back to six, and would answer a Payne three with one of his own to keep MVNU up 41-35 with 16 minutes to go.
Vipperman made a sly move past Mobley for a lay-up to extend the lead back to eight points, and Roberts would hit a lay-up after a turnover on the other end to give MVNU their first double digit lead of the evening at 45-35. Montreat would take a timeout, but Butler would travel to turn the ball over on the other end. Jones would make the Cavaliers pay with a tough lay-up through contact, making the lead 47-35.
The two teams would trade points over the next few minutes, with Isaac White (JR/Ashland, OH)’s jumper in the left corner making the lead MVNU lead 51-40; White then drained a three from the right corner to extend the lead to 54-40, forcing another Montreat timeout. Daniel Vitiello would stop the Cougar run on the next possession with a tough finish in the paint, but those points would be answered by bonus free throws from Vipperman. Montreat got three points on the next possession to cut the lead to 11, but Knox would finish again through contact, making the lead 58-45 with less than seven minutes to go.
From there, Montreat would go into a full-court press to desperately get back into the game. Patience for MVNU would see the Cougars get open looks at the basket, and the stifling MVNU defense continued to force poor shots for Montreat. One of those open looks would find Jones, who emphatically dunked to make the lead 66-50, the largest lead of the game for the Cougars. Montreat scored the next four points, but Jones got another massive dunk on an open look after MVNU broke the press, and Vipperman would hit a three off a stop to make the lead 71-54. MVNU hit free throws down the stretch to seal the win, overcoming Montreat 76-63 and advancing to the Round of 16.
The win sees Mount Vernon Nazarene improve to 27-7 on the season. Montreat ends their season at 24-8 overall.
Keys to the Game
- MVNU gave a monumental effort on the defensive end. The Cougars held Montreat to 24-74 from the field for 32.4% overall, and to 7-33 from three, a poor 21.2% from behind the arc. Montreat had entered shooting 47.5% from the field and 35.2% from three.
- MVNU shot 29-50 overall from the field for an efficient 58.0%, and went 6-16 from three for 37.5%. MVNU was also 12-17 from the free throw line, compared to just 8-13 for Montreat.
- The Cougars’ defensive effort was especially tough on Montreat leading scorer Austin Butler. Butler, who entered averaging 16.9 points per game, scored only 12 on the afternoon on 4-11 shooting.
- The Cougars were outrebounded by Montreat 38-37 on the day, but had 35 defensive rebounds to Montreat’s 21. MVNU is now 3-5 when being outrebounded.
- Thursday was MVNU’s first game on a neutral court this season.
MVNU Ties Season Wins Record
With Thursday’s win, Mount Vernon Nazarene men’s basketball matched their team record for most wins in a season with 27. The Cougars previously reached the mark in 1997-98, 1998-99, and 2005-06.
- Jevon Knox (MVNU) – 21 points, 7 rebounds
- Austin Jones (MVNU) – 19 points
- Brett Vipperman (MVNU) – 12 points, 7 rebounds
- Nicodemus Payne (Montreat) – 16 points, 10 rebounds
- Austin Butler (Montreat) – 12 points
- Jeron Hemphill (Montreat) – 11 points, 11 rebounds
Coach Ronai’s Thoughts
“Really proud of our guys and their effort tonight. They were tremendous on the defensive end. They really executed certain keys defensively against their personnel. We’re excited to advance and compete in the Round of 16. It is a tremendous honor and we are looking forward to the opportunity. Thank you to everyone who tuned in to cheer on our young men!”
Mount Vernon Nazarene men’s basketball now advance in the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament, where they will take on No. 4 Morningside (Iowa), the top-seeded team in the Cramer Bracket. Tipoff at the Sanford Pentagon is set for 8:30pm Eastern/7:30pm Central.