Mary Hardin-Baylor overcomes 12-point deficit to advance to NCAA title game
SALEM, Va. -- James Allen scored 19 points to help Mary Hardin-Baylor beat top-ranked St. Thomas (Minn.) 74-67 on Saturday in the NCAA Division III semifinals.
The Crusaders (27-5) snapped St. Thomas' 14-game winning streak to advance to the championship game against Amherst at Philips Arena in Atlanta on April 7. Amherst beat North Central (Ill.) 52-44 in the second semifinal.
''We feel extremely fortunate just to be here and to be able to beat a team like that,'' Mary Hardin-Baylor coach Ken DeWeese said. ''It's a great feeling to play someone who is good and has been here and done it. Our guys played pretty well to get it done.''
The Crusaders, who advanced to the title game for the first time, overcame a 12-point deficit, taking a 68-67 lead on Allen's two free throws with 20.7 seconds left. Thomas Orr stole the ball from Noah Kaiser on St. Thomas' next possession and was fouled with 12.3 seconds left. He made both free throws to give the Crusaders a 70-67 lead. After Kaiser missed 3-pointer, Orr made two more free throws with 4.4 seconds to seal the game.
''When he (Kaiser) caught it and swung it (the ball) through, he kind of left it out,'' Orr said about the steal. ''So I just tried to capitalize on the opportunity. I had four fouls, but I felt like I had to take the risk right there. The free throws were really bigger than the steal. It's a trip to the national championship game ... that was in the back of my mind! But I just thought about my routine and focused on that.''
Allen, who scored only one point and went 0 for 9 from the floor in Mary Hardin-Baylor's quarterfinal victory over Cabrini, led the Crusaders, hitting 5 of 16 from the floor and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Orr finished with 11 points, and Kitrick Bell and Layton Zinsmeister had 14 each. Zinsmeister made all nine of his free-throw attempts as the Crusaders hit 27 of 34 from the line.
Will DeBerg led St. Thomas (30-2), which won the 2011 national championship, with 21 points.
''Usually, when we get a lead like that, we extend it to 15 or 20,'' St. Thomas coach John Tauer said. ''We've done that all year. But that's the nature of sports. One team wins and one loses, but that doesn't diminish what we've done this year.''