KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kyle Teichmann is an All-American in the making. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, who averages 20 points and 8 rebounds for Freed-Hardeman University, is a force inside the paint and out of it as well. Today, however, stronger forces hit him, first Azusa Pacific’s defense and then the game officials.
Frustrated by his lack of scoring opportunities and back-to-back shots that were physically contested, Teichmann expressed his opinion a tad too strong and the nearest referee took umbrage, slapping Teichmann with a technical foul with 9:52 left in the game. The fourth personal foul sent Teichmann to the bench and with him went Freed-Hardemann’s last lead.
The NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific out-scored a Teichmann-less Freed-Hardeman by 14 points over the final 10 minutes to come back and win today’s opening round game of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, 92-79, in Kansas City’s famed Municipal Auditorium.
All-GSAC center Reggie Owens scored 17 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, and All-GSAC forward Danny Nugent added 18 points to lead Azusa Pacific back from a 6-point halftime deficit and to its sixth NAIA Tournament first-round win in the past 7 years.
“I trust my veterans to stay poised, and let the chips fall where they may,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Justin Leslie. “I thought we did a good job of getting stronger and tougher as the game went on.”
Azusa Pacific, which scored just 31 first-half points and led for just 1 minute, tightened the defensive screws and turned on the jets, scoring 61 second-half points on 70-percent shooting (21-for-30) to catch the Lions and then methodically pull away. Of course it helped that Teichmann was on the bench for 7 minutes down the stretch.
With Freed-Hardeman leading 57-56, Teichmann, who was picked by Azusa Pacific’s Mike Caffese on the previous possession, got the ball on the block again but was unable to convert a heavily defended up-and-under. Off his own rebound, he felt he was bumped on a fade-away baseline jumper that David Stafford rebounded. As the Cougars raced in the opposite direction, Teichmann said something to the official that stopped play and sent him to the bench.
Nugent made both technical free throws, and Owens converted a jumper in the paint on the subsequent possession to give Azusa Pacific a 60-57 lead with 9:40 to play. The Cougars never trailed again.
“The foul trouble hurt Teichmann,” said Leslie, “but I thought Danny and Caleb (Burgess) did a good job of learning and understanding in this week leading up to the tournament where Teichmann is comfortable and where he likes to get his looks. His quality of shots was poor, and I think that was because we had some savvy veterans out there knowing what they needed to do to prepare.”
Azusa Pacific put away Freed-Hardeman with a 15-7 run in a 4-minute stretch to assume the game’s first double-digit lead at 83-73 with 2:30 left in the game. In the run that affectively clinched the victory, Marshall Johnson, Stafford and Caffese all converted driving lay-ups to counter any answer the Lions might offer.
“Freed did a fantastic job of taking away our entries into Reggie,” said Leslie. “What we were left with were 3 consecutive possessions where we had drives to the basket for a lay-up. They weren’t the plays I called, but it was guys recognizing the situation and playing basketball.”
Freed-Hardeman took an early 7-2 lead, and though the Cougars countered with an 8-0 run highlighted by Dallas Rutherford’s 3-pointer from the left wing that put Azusa Pacific up 10-7, it was the Lions who controlled nearly all of the first half. They answered the Cougars’ momentary lead with 3 straight 3-balls, the beginning of a torching of the nets from beyond the arc. FHU maintained the lead by relying on 3-pointers to keep Azusa Pacific at bay, and when Daniel Gravatt dropped in a coast-to-coast lay-up at the buzzer, the Lions owned a somewhat surprising 37-31 halftime lead.
“We dominated the game in the first half with our defensive mistakes,” said Leslie. “Feet set, steeping in on their shots? Gosh, you’re not going to get better looks than that, and of course they knocked them down.”
Regrouped and refocused after the break, Azusa Pacific went to its senior leadership to start the second half, and needed less than a minute to erase Freed-Hardeman’s halftime cushion. An Owens’ conventional 3-point play followed by a Stafford trey from the right wing knotted the game at 37-all and ignited a 16-5 Cougar push that put Azusa Pacific up 47-42 following a Nugent jumper.
Freed-Hardeman countered as Teichmann began to heat up, scoring the final 4 points of a Lion 12-4 run that put the Lions back up, 57-54. Then came the fateful moment. Teichmann, who had played only 16 of 30 minutes of the game, was headed back to the bench with a technical and a fourth foul.
“He needs to learn to keep his composure and stay on the floor,” said Freed-Hardeman Head Coach Jason Shelton. “We had a hard time establishing something inside for ourselves. Two sophomores and two freshmen post players, hopefully they’ll learn a little bit more about what it’s like to be strong and to be able to play at this level.”
With Teichmann on the bench, Owens went to work, and the Cougar guards found it easier to get the ball into his hands.
“Reggie was really good,” said Leslie. “When we needed it, he delivered. When Stafford and Danny hit those threes early in the second half, Freed realized they couldn’t put 3 guys on Reggie like they did the whole first half. Reggie is a good player, but we’re a good team.”
Owens, who is now averaging 18.5 points in his 6-game NAIA Tournament career, accounted for his 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He collected 6 rebounds to go along with 3 assists and 3 steals in 32 minutes of play.
“We stayed within striking distance in the first half, and when we figured out how to attack them, we did,” said Owens. “I like playing here. It’s a big stage, and I think I’m a big-time player. I show up when my team needs me.”
Nugent, who had scored just 36 points in the prior 5 games, snapped out of his personal doldrums by canning 5-of-7 shots on his way to his best offensive showing in 7 weeks.
“This is so much fun, oh my goodness,” said Nugent. “I played a good game and had some points, but I’m so glad we got the victory. I love playing with these guys.”
Johnson finished with 15 points, while Stafford offered his usual steady effort, collecting 10 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. The 5-foot-10 Caffese chipped in with 7 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. He even blocked a shot of Freed’s 5-foot-3 Anthony Sampson.
With the victory Azusa Pacific improves to 29-5 overall and will play Pikeville College, a 76-69 victor over defending national champion Oklahoma Baptist University, in a second-round game on Friday (March 18) at 9 a.m. (CDT).
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