SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—The ball just wouldn’t go through the cylinder.
Southeastern’s men’s basketball season came to an end with a 68-57 loss to third-seeded Warner Pacific in the first round of the NAIA Division II National Championship tournament at the Sanford Pentagon.
The Fire (21-10) finished the game 35% from the field, hampered by a second half that saw SEU convert just 9-of-31 from the field.
“You have to make baskets in March to continue to play,” said coach R-Jay Barsh. “Today was probably one of our worst shooting nights overall. The guys who took shots, we want them taking shots, because they’re the ones that got us here.”
Stout defense got the Fire off to a great start, leading by seven with 6:48 to play in the first half. Senior guard CJ Reese was the main threat, connecting on six of his nine field goal attempts in the first half, and finished his final game at SEU with a team-high 15 points, and added seven rebounds, four assists, and a steal.
The Fire recorded stops on eight consecutive defensive possessions, holding the Knights (24-9) scoreless for just over five minutes, and led 10-5 with just under 13 minutes left in the first.
Warner Pacific started to find its rhythm in the final five minutes, outscoring SEU 15-8 to head to the intermission tied at 32.
The Knights didn’t have a particularly great shooting night, either, going 37% from the field, well below their season average of 49.8%. In the second half, Warner Pacific controlled the interior, collecting 30 of its 50 total rebounds in the second 20 minutes, and outscored the Fire in the paint 46-38.
Grant Bryant finished his SEU career with a 10-point, nine rebound effort in 30 minutes. The Atlanta native also dished out two assists, and blocked a shot.
The Knights had four in double figures, led by Xavier Cannefax with 22 points, and De’Jon Bowman, who scored 12 points with 20 rebounds.
“It’s really hard to win a game when you only make seven free throws,” said Barsh. “I’m proud of our effort, but at the end of the day you have to make shots to win games.”