NCC
Gamble

ST. LOUIS -- North Central (Ill.) dominated on the inside and made several key plays down the stretch in defeating the Rose-Hulman 74-71 in opening-round action on Friday.

Rose-Hulman came out firing from long range and stayed hot throughout the contest, making 12-of-21 3-pointers (57.1 percent), including a 7-for-10 effort in the second half. The Cardinals were able to overcome the onslaught by outscoring the Engineers in the paint 48-16 including a game-high 27-point performance from sophomore forward Landon Gamble.

"I was very pleased with our effort," North Central coach Todd Raridon said. "You have to give Rose-Hulman credit. i thought they did a terrific job executing their offense, and they made us work hard defensively. They just made big plays at crucial times and we could not put them away.

"I thought Landon did a nice job inside and the kids did a good job of getting him the ball, and we made big plays when we had to."

After opening the game with a 7-2 run, North Central yielded a 8-2 surge that netted Rose-Hulman its first lead at 10-9. The Engineers extended their lead to as many as five points before a layup by Gamble and two 3-pointers by Kevin Gillespie got the Cardinals back in front 26-24.

The Engineers nudged themelves back in front 28-26, though back-to-back layups by Gamble and Charlie Rosenberg put North Central ahead once again 30-28. The lead changed hands once again on Austin Weatherford's 3-pointer with 3:48 on the clock, and Rose-Hulman held a 34-32 edge with 2:22 left before the Cardinals put the locks on the basket and held the Engineers scoreless the rest of the period. Gamble scored in the paint to tie the score, and Gillespie sank a 3-pointer with 1:14 remaining which wound up sending the Cardinals into halftime with a 37-34 advantage.

North Central extended its advantage to 46-39 after the first four minutes of the second half, but Rose-Hulman bounced back once again with 3s from Weatherford and Julian Strickland to narrow the gap to a single poin. Gamble scored twice down low and Aaron Tiknis added a layup as well, building the Cardinals' edge back up to 52-45 with 13:33 left.

The Engineers (20-9) narrowed the gap to two points on a pair of occasions midway through the period, the second of which came at 60-58 with 8:24 left. Gamble provided North Central some breathing room by converting a three-point play and feeding Vince Kmiec for a layup with 6:04 on the clock.

The Cardinals owned a 71-65 edge with less than 30 seconds remaining, but Rose-Hulman still had rounds in the chamber, as Weatherford canned a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left to make it a one-possession game. Gillespie beat the Engineers' full-court press and found CJ Goldthree for a layup, but Strickland stepped up and knocked down another triple with just two seconds left. Tiknis was fouled on the inbounds pass and made one of two shots with 0.8 seconds left, and the Cardinals successfully defended Rose-Hulman's final possession.

"Every time they made a run back at us, we seemed to whether that storm and someone made a play," Raridon said. "These guys haven't quit all year, and they found a way to get it done. We don't have a lot of time, but we've got some work to do for tomorrow."

Gamble made 12 of 14 shots in the game and led the Cardinals with eight rebounds, while also contributing four assists and two blocked shots. Tiknis and Gillespie each finished with 11 points and seven assists, while Derek Raridon put up 10 points.