KANSAS CITY, Mo. – D’Lando Carter’s lay-up with 2.5 seconds remaining lifted sixth-seeded Cumberlands (Ky.) to an 82-80 win over No. 2 Talladega (Ala.) in the Second Round of the 2016 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship. The Patriots punch their ticket to the Quarterfinal round for the first time since 1997. Cumberlands will take on the winner of No 1 Biola (Calif.) / No. 4 Mid-America Christian (Okla.) Saturday at Noon CDT.
The game appeared to be decided in the first half with Talladega owning a 50-36 lead. The Tornadoes, who advanced out of the First Round Wednesday with a buzzer-beater of their own, shot a sizzling 52 percent (16-for-31) in the game’s first 20 minutes. Both Qua Doster and Jordan Washington were already in double figures at that point with a combined six 3-pointers.
It was a tale of two halves. The Patriots trailed by as many as 18 in the first half but stormed back thanks to a strong effort in the final 20 minutes. Cumberlands out-scored Talladega 46-30 after the half.
“Our conference really prepared us for this moment,” said Cumberlands Head Coach Don Butcher. “Give Talledega credit, they shot the ball really well. We stayed on task and tried to guard them. They are near impossible to guard, they’re so fast with the ball. That game could have changed either way. We feel very fortunate to get out of here with a win.
“We have seven seniors, they don’t want it to end. It is fun to watch from a coaching standpoint, our team put their heart and soul into this. We are trying to get them ready for the game of life and if they put as much into their families and into their jobs as they do basketball, they will be successful. We hope we are growing the right habits and those seniors deserve this.”
The Talladega offense didn’t need any wake-up call for the 9 a.m. local game. A Nigel Jones fast-break basket put the Tornadoes up 8-0 just over a minute into the game. Jones again was in the middle of a scoring splurge as his 2-pointer at the 7:17 mark handed Talladega a 38-20 lead. Hot shooting continued and Talladega held a 14-point edge at intermission.
But, then the Cumberlands offense came to life. Temjae Singleton went to work on the offensive end in the first minutes of the second half. His 3-pointer to open the scoring – he finished with three triples in the game – sparked an 18-5 run and the Patriots were back in it. Carter’s trey with 7:56 left tied the score up at 71-71 and Cumberlands grabbed its first lead of the game after a pair of free throws a minute later by Tre Boutilier.
After five more lead changes in the next six minutes, Jordan Washington put Talladega ahead with two free throws with 1:07 left on the clock. But, Singleton tied the score up on the next possession with free throws before Carter’s heroics at the buzzer.
Singleton finished with a career-high 29 points on 6-of-13 shooting. He went 14-for-16 from the free throw line and added six rebounds. Boutilier added 17 points and 11 boards, while Xavier Owens and Carter ended with 14 points.
For Talladega, Washington gathered 26 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Qua Doster posted 22 and Nigel Jones had 17.
Cumberlands shot 45.5 percent (25-of-55) and held a significant advantage from the free throw line making 11 more from the charity stripe (24-of-27). Talladega went just 13-for-22 (.591) on free throws.
“For some unknown reason, we just wore down and did not have any legs and ran out of steam in the end,” said Talladega Head Coach Matt Cross. “I knew we could not shoot as well as we did at the start for the whole game, but we needed a few more plays and just could not make them.”
“This year was a great journey,” added Cross. “Honestly, we were overachievers and never expected to have a season like this. We lost a lot of great players and basically started from scratch, but this was a coachable group; these guys were lots of fun to be around every day.”
Talladega ends its season with a 25-7 record