The Tennessee Temple Crusaders were almost too efficient Thursday night. In the process of putting together a winning effort in the NCCAA Mid-East Regional Tournament., making quick work of a nine-point deficit, it almost seemed as if they didn't leave enough in the tank to finish the trip.
Staggering all the way, the Crusaders got some clutch free throw shooting from Chattanooga native Corey Sanders to avoid the upset effort by Victory University and claim a 90-87 first-round victory in Temple's McGilvray Gymnasium.
But there's no rest for the weary. Temple returns to play second seeded Union tonight at 8 in the second semifinal contest. The finals will be Saturday at 2, all at McGilvray.
Even though a couple of his four turnovers came at inopportune times, Sanders was money at the foul line on a night when it made a difference. He hit 10 of 10 while his teammates clanked an embarrassing 18 of 40; collectively, that was a paltry 56 percent – not so hot when your opponent is putting you on the line to catch up.
"I was not pleased with the end of the game," said Temple coach Brac Brady. Especially galling was his team hitting only 5 of 14 foul shots over the final three minutes (Sanders hit four of them).
"Foul shooting has been an issue at times during the year," he added. "Corey is usually one of the better ones. But tonight when he had the ball in his hands, a couple of times he kind of overdid it."
The teams split their season series, each winning easily at home. The Crusaders, having wiped out Victory's first-half advantage (40-31 with less than two minutes before intermission) with four 3s in a three-minute span, gradually built a second-half lead. It grew all the way to 13, 85-72, on Elliott Johnson's three-point play with 3:43 to play.
After Temple's last field goal of the night, the Eagles answered with seven quick points sparked by Mario Jones' 3-pointer. But he and the Victory bench inexplicably were hit with back-to-back technicals with 2:52 left in the game. Sanders hit two, PJ Whitaker missed two, and a four-point Victory possession closed the gap to 87-84 with 1:48 left in the game.
Rashaud Bell, who was a key disruptor on defense, hit only 1 of 4 foul shots on the next two Temple possessions, but one of those plays fouled out Victory's big man, 6-foot-10 Keron Jackson, whose night ended with 20 points and six rebounds. He was the third Eagle to foul out, having earlier lost both of their starting guards, Chris Downey and Raphael Banal.
The final two Temple points were Sanders free throws with 11 seconds left that made it a 90-84 game.
"Both of our games with Victory in the regular season were very physical. I believe technicals played a role in both of them as well," Brady said.
For the Crusaders (20-11), Whittaker and Sanders tied for team honors with 15 apiece, Whittaker hitting four of Temple's eight 3-pointers. Bell and Johnson closed out their night with identical lines of 13 points and nine rebounds while Hampton Mack doubled up with 10 points and 10 rebounds despite playing only 25 minutes and Weedlens Beauvil scored 12, hitting 6 of 7 free throws.
Victory (20-8) had four players in double figures with Mario Jones second only to big man Jackson with16 points. Bonal, who fouled out with 5:23 still to play, took 12 points and five assists to the bench in only 15 minutes of action.
TENNESSEE TEMPLE 90, VICTORY 87
VICTORY (87) – Downey 5, Raphael Banal 12, Miles 9, Bernans 2, Tyrell Hursey 12, Mario Jones 16, Morelli 2, Sexton 3, Guess, Gibson 6, Turner, Keron Jackson 20.
Hafltime: Victory, 40-37. 3-point goals: Victory 8 (Banal 2, Hursey 2, Miles, Jones, Sexton, Jackson); TTU 8 8(Whittaker 4, Beauvil 2, Sanders, Johnson). Records: Victory 20-8, TTU 20-11
Written by David Jenkins at the Chattanoogan