KANSAS CITY, Mo. –- Abdiel Mendieta’s 19-foot jumper from the right wing with 35 seconds left in the game lifted unseeded John Brown University to a 70-67 upset of No. 7 Azusa Pacific in the first round of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Mednieta’s bucket, followed by a pair of free throws with 18 seconds remaining, capped a 33-point night in which the junior from Panama buried 10-of-15 shots, including 5 from the 3-point arc, and averted a fifth foul for the final 7 minutes of the game.
Azusa Pacific used a 14-0 run early in the game to take a 16-7 lead and pushed its cushion to as much as 10 points on 3 different occasions in the first half before settling for a 38-31 halftime lead. Junior guard Ryan Dillon scored all 11 of his points in the first half to pace the Cougars, nailing a trio of treys, including one that gave the Cougars a 22-12 lead.
However, behind Mednieta’s 24 second-half points, the Golden Eagles, who were making their first-ever NAIA Tournament appearance, kept attacking the Cougar defense and took its own lead at 52-51 with 10 minutes to play on Pat Smits’ only field goal of the game. The 2 teams traded leads 3 more times and knotted the score on 4 occasions before Mednieta settled the game with his lengthy jumper.
Azusa Pacific appeared to be going for its own knockout blow and the victory with less than a minute to play. With the Cougars up 67-66, freshman Lance Soderberg blocked a Brandon Cole shot and handed the ball off to Caleb Gervin, who in turn lofted a 30-foot lob pass to a streaking Ladrick Simon. Simon’s lay-in attempt was blocked near the glass and JBU came up with the loose ball, setting up Mednieta’s game-winning bucket.
Azusa Pacific still had chances but Gervin missed a subsequent jumper in the key in an attempt to the give the Cougars the lead again with 20 seconds left, and then he missed a fade away 3-point jumper at the buzzer to force overtime.
The Cougars, who led throughout most of the game, were unable to put John Brown away, primarily because they missed 13 free throws and shot just 39% (19-for-49) from the floor. Additionally, the couldn’t a slap a trio of Golden Eagles with their fifth fouls, including Mednieta and Cole, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers to turn an Azusa Pacific 62-58 lead into a John Brown 64-62 advantage with 3:13 left in the game.
Simon led the Cougars with 24 points. Brett Michel added 11 points, 8 of which came at the line. Gervin, who was saddled with foul trouble and could never get into the rhythm of the game, also tallied 11 points.
Medieta was the only Golden Eagle in double figures in scoring.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific ends its season at 27-7.