DANVILLE, Ky. -- Hosting its first NCAA tournament game since 2009, Centre seized control in the final five minutes to claim a 78-71 win against LaGrange on Thursday.
Senior guard Donovan Whiteside led all players with 24 points and hit shots at crucial times for the Colonels, including a 3-pointer to put Centre ahead for good with 2:30 to play. Blake Scinta scored 15 points while Collin Lopez added 14 for Centre.
Nick Mitchell led LaGrange with 23 points while teammates Denzel Robinson and Dustin Baxter each scored 11 points.
Whiteside scored 16 of his points in the second half, nine in the final five minutes and scored many of those when the Colonels needed them most. He knocked down a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with Centre facing its biggest second-half deficit of four points, and he later made another 3 to go ahead for good.
In a game that had seen 17 lead changes, Centre held on to that lead, picking up a rebound on the other end and getting a free throw from Tyler Wesley to go up 72-69 with 1:40 left. After a turnover, Whiteside made another jumper to go up by five, then canceled out a LaGrange bucket with a pair of free throws to go up 76-71 with 21 seconds left. Josh Karsner added another two free throws on the next possession to put the game away.
Despite controlling the closing minutes of the game, things had been even most of the way with LaGrange leading for most of the contest. LaGrange, in its first NCAA tournament appearance, opened an early lead after shooting 56 percent (5 of 9) in the first half. The Panthers led by as many as 10 points at 24-14 before Centre went on a 10-2 run.
Centre, making its 17th tournament appearance and seventh in eight years, later took its first lead on a pair of Karsner free throws that came in the middle of an 8-0 run that put it ahead 38-33. The Colonels took a 45-43 lead to halftime, and after a back and forth second half, neither team would lead by more than four until Centre pulled away in the final minute.
Centre shot 53 percent (26 of 49) to LaGrange's 47 percent (26 of 55) in the game while the Panthers held a 40 percent (8 of 20) edge in 3-point shooting to the Colonels' 33 percent (7 of 21). Centre held a 30-27 advantage on the boards.
LaGrange's season comes to an end at 18-11 while Centre moves to 24-4 on the year and will face Emory. The Eagles finished their regular season with a 17-8 record and received one of two first-round byes to open the tournament.