POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - The No. 19-ranked Marian University men's basketball team did the unthinkable on Wednesday evening at Keeter Gymnasium in the first round of the 21st annual NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship.
The Knights (20-10) came back from a nine-point second half deficit to earn a 75-72 overtime victory over No. 15-ranked and 16th-seeded St. Ambrose University (Iowa) to earn their first tournament win and their first 20-win season since 2003-04.
Trailing by nine, 46-37, with 15:50 remaining in the game, the Knights went on a 12-2 run to take a one-point lead at 49-48, their first of the game, with 10:30 to go. However, SAU went on a 13-5 run over the next six minutes to take a 61-54 lead with 3:58 remaining.
A second-chance putback by senior Alex Sylvester sparked a 6-0 run over the next two minutes to cut the SAU lead to one, 61-60, with 1:20 remaining. The Fighting Bees pushed the lead to three at 63-60 with a pair of free throws with 11 seconds to go.
Sylvester got the ball at midcourt with 10 ticks left and dribbled to the left corner in front of the MU bench where he launched a 3-pointer with just over two seconds to go. It swished through the net with 1.9 seconds to go to tie the score at 63 and send it to overtime. It was his first 3-pointer of the game and just the third for the team.
In overtime, junior Aaron Evans opened the scoring with a layup before Sylvester buried a second 3-pointer to stake MU a five-point lead, 68-63, with 3:07 to go. An SAU layup cut it back to three, but Evans hit a pair of freebies and senior Jake Sullivan knocked down a pair from the line to open a seven-point lead, 72-65, with 1:53 remaining.
SAU's Nicholas Frazier nailed a three and Chris Donnelly got a second-chance layup to go to cut it back to two at 72-70 with 1:15 to go. Sophomore Jake Stafford hit a layup with 41 seconds left before Donnelly hit another to keep it at two, 74-72, with 25 ticks left on the clock. Sylvester hit one-of-two free throws to put MU up three, 75-72, with 19 seconds left, but gave SAU one last shot. The Bees got a look from 3-point range, but Sullivan's challenge on Donnelly's attempt altered the shot as the buzzer sounded giving MU the comeback 75-72 win.
The Knights shot 44 percent (27-for-61) for the game and went 4-for-12 from 3-point range. They also went 17-for-20 (85 percent) from the free throw line in the game. The biggest stat was a 41-26 rebounding edge for MU for the game, including a 13-7 edge on the offensive glass. They had 12 offensive rebounds in the second frame.
Sylvester, who started cold in the first half, finished with 16 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. It was the third double-double of the season for Sylvester and the fifth of his career.
Evans tallied a game-high 21 points, while Stafford hit for nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Sullivan and freshmen Dwight Cliff and Eric Harris each had nine points for the Knights.
The Knights are now 4-3 all-time at the NAIA Division II national tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 for the third time in four appearances.
MU will take on No. 1-ranked Northwood University (Fla.) (31-3) on Friday evening at 5:45 p.m. CST (6:45 p.m. EST). Northwood advanced after a 67-50 win over the College of the Ozarks on Wednesday night. The game will air LIVE on the Knights Athletics Network beginning at 6:35 p.m. EST. You can also watch the game LIVE for a fee by clicking HERE.