Fullerton, CA- Hope International held off a late charge from Concordia in the opening round of the GSAC Tournament on Thursday as they beat the Eagles 73-65. The win will send HIU to the GSAC Tournament Semi-Finals for the second time in as many years. Junior Matt Green and Sophomore Garrett Neilan both scored 20 points.
The Eagles (19-12) scored twenty-two seconds into the game before Junior Austin Sanford scored the next four points for the first tie and then lead change of the game. Concordia then answered and moved right back in front and pushed the lead out to 9-6.
However, Green converted two jumpers to give Hope International a 10-9 edge with 10:15 to go in the opening half.
The second set of ten minutes saw the Royals (21-9) dial up their offense as they outscored Concordia 24-13 before reaching the half.
At the break, HIU was up 34-22 thanks in large part to holding CUI to just 25% shooting in the first half. In fact, the Eagles made just six baskets in the first half with three of them coming from behind the three point line.
Neilan led all scorers with 13 points at the break on the strength of two three pointers and 5-6 shooting from the free throw line. Green delivered 10 points in the first 20 minutes. For Concordia, their top scorer was DeLaun Frazier with six points all from behind the three point line.
Out of the break, Green buried a three pointer from straight away and then Junior Carlton Hayes, Sophomore Tuff Barnes, and Senior Regan Andersen went to work in the paint and just like that HIU held a 20 point lead at 43-23.
The Royals pushed the lead to 20 points again a few minutes later.
But then suddenly the Eagles started to hit shots and then started to foul HIU to save the clock. In the final 8:35 of the game, Hope International took just five shots from the field as the rest of the time they found themselves at the free throw line.
Eventually in the closing seconds of play, CUI closed the gap to just six points. Green finally iced the game with another pair of made free throws.
At game's end, the Royals went 30-39 from the charity stripe. On their way to their 20 points, Neilan hit 10-12 shots while Green went 9-10 from the free throw line. Sanford reached 10 points for the Royals thanks to 3-4 shooting from the field and 4-6 shooting at the line. Junior James Bailey was a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line.
As for CUI, Donnell Phifer, who had just three points in the first half, netted 16 second half points to reach his 19 total points.
Head Coach Bill Czech stated afterwards, "What a great night for Hope International University. Our guys really played with toughness both mentally and physically, they stuck together and made some unbelievable plays. Concordia is the class of the NAIA and is coached by one of the best coaches on any level so we feel extremely fortunate to win against such a tough team. Neilan and Green were really special tonight and (Senior) Jeremy Kilgore is mentally and physically the toughest player I have ever coached- I am really glad he's on our team. Bailey made huge free throws and played with poise. Barnes was extremely solid and had a lot of energy plays and the surprise hero was Andersen. Regan was absolutely phenomenal."
Czech added, "Thank you to (HIU President) Dr. Derry for paying for the student body's attendance tonight- that gave us the edge we needed. The Royal Rowdies are simply awesome, we truly appreciate their support."
For the Royals they received a gift wrapped present when seventh seeded The Master's upset second seeded Arizona Christian. So now instead of making a trip to Arizona, HIU will host TMC for their GSAC Semi-Finals matchup on Saturday at 7:30 pm in the Darling Pavilion. For Concordia, they now must wait until Wednesday for the NAIA Nationals selection show to see if their season ended on Thursday night or if they will carry on to the National tournament.