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Men's Basketball - Fri, Mar. 17, 2017 - posted by Seth Preuss
Josh Smith ruined the rim against Life with a number of thunderous transition dunks (Photo by Dale Grosbach)
Josh Smith ruined the rim against Life with a number of thunderous transition dunks (Photo by Dale Grosbach)
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(5)Hope International
(9)Life University

KANSAS CITY, MO – No. 5 Hope International drew No. 9 Life in the second round of the NAIA National Tournament and battled with the Running Eagles through regulation in a classic tourney matchup - several fans after the game were overheard after the game remarking that the game was good enough that it deserved to be a Quarterfinals contest. HIU fell behind early, rallied to lead at the break, and ultimately fell in a heartbreaker as time expired.

Liam Hunt (JR/San Anselmo, CA) found himself in foul trouble from the outset with three fouls collected in under five minutes from the opening tip – Daniel Young (JR/Las Vegas, NV), Kyle Hoag (SR/Mission Viejo, CA), and Josh Smith (SR/National City, CA) helped to shoulder the load after Hunt's early exit and performed admirably to buoy the team on both ends.

With Hunt nailed to the bench with foul trouble, Life worked its way to a nine-point lead after the opening nine minutes and was carving up the Royals' defense before Smith and Young made it their mission to wall off the paint. HIU built on their defense and outscored Life 23-10 in the last 11 minutes to lead by four at the half, 36-32. At one point the Royals actually held an eight-point lead with three minutes to play before the break after a 21-4 clinic on both ends.

With help from Charles Trotter (SO/Slidell, LA) as well, the Royals tied their second-highest season total with ten blocks in the game. The Royals limited the Eagles to just eight points in the paint in the first half after the early success enjoyed by Life in the lane and only ten in the second, forcing the Eagles to go away from their bread and butter offense for outside shots.

The Eagles opened the second half with a trey to pull within one and the game would stay close the rest of the way. Devin Greene (FR/Sacramento, CA) showed up big for HIU from beyond the arc and knocked down a trio of treys on four attempts (75%) in the game to finish with 16 points and helped the Royals keep in step with Life throughout a gripping second period.

Life wrestled the lead away from HIU with four minutes remaining and the Royals were forced to play from behind the rest of the way. Isaac Douglass (FR/Yorba Linda, CA) checked in with 15 seconds remaining as HIU trailed 76-72 and dialed in an NBA-range triple from 30 feet to pull back within one, 76-75 with 12 seconds left. The triple was Douglass' first in almost a month and could not have come in a bigger moment for the Royals.

With 11 seconds left after Life went one of two at the line the Royals looked ready to tie or take the lead, but a turnover with six ticks remaining doomed the Royals' comeback attempt. Donny Punter (JR/Long Island, NY) hit his second triple of the game with two seconds left and the Royals were able to foul once more but the desperation heave was short and left from three-quarters court and time expired with an 80-78 tally favoring Life.

In stark contrast to their win over Wiley (TX), the Royals were nails at the foul line. Smith finished 11-13, Greene was a perfect 3-3, Punter hit on 4-6 and Young went 5-9 from the line – the Royals never missed on back-to-back attempts. HIU also got good production from their shooters, finishing 7-15 (46.6%) from the arc. Unfortunately, the Eagles were able to better that production with a 12-22 performance from downtown that proved to be the edge in the game.

Smith led all scorers with 23 points in what proved to be his final collegiate game and just missed a double-double with seven rebounds and three steals. Young filled in more than adequately for Hunt with 17 points, 15 boards, and eight blocks – Young broke his own record for most blocks in a single game in the loss and recorded his seventh career double-double at HIU.

"I'm really proud of the guys for the season they had, it was special and this is a special group of young men they represented our school and their team in the most positive way at all times," Coach Bill Czech remarked in his final postgame interview of the year. "We were on the plane out here and got an email from one of the passengers, last night at dinner someone complimented us on that stuff – we enjoy winning but that's really what these guys are all about."

"As far as the game goes, this was probably the best we've played in a while," Czech continued on to say. "we really haven't played this well in a while and ran up against a team that was very underrated, probably Top 5 in the country and have been on a great win streak. Hats off to them – both teams made shots in the clutch, Josh and Daniel were huge, and there were just a few plays were the ball hung on the rim and would roll off for us but in for them. It is what it is – they got us, and we can't thank everyone at HIU enough for the support they gave us through the year."

HIU falls to 26-8 overall in its 2016-17 campaign and will await the conclusion of the NAIA Tournament to find out its final standing in the Coaches' Top 25 Postseason poll. Stay tuned to our website and social media feeds for a final season recap in the coming weeks following the release of the final NAIA poll on Mar. 29.

 
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