Kansas City, MO – The sixth-seed University of the Cumberlands Men's Basketball Team rallied in the second half but it wasn't enough as they fell 74-68 to third-seed Texas Wesleyan in the opening round of the 2017 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship Thursday afternoon at the Municipal Auditorium. With the win the Rams advance to the second round of the tournament and improve to 25-7, while the Patriots conclude their season with a 22-9 record.
Texas Wesleyan opened the game on a 14-2 run, which spanned the first seven minutes of the first half. The Patriots cut into the deficit as Kelsley Wilkinson (SR/SW Ranches, FL) found Marquis Yates (SR/Manassas, VA) for a three-pointer to cut it to 14-5. The Rams extended their lead to 23-8 before Chance Morton (JR/Mobile, AL) and Bernard Samuel (JR/Charleston, SC) combined for Cumberlands next seven points to bring the UC within nine with 5:03 remaining. Eric Duncan (JR/Stockton, CA)'s free throw two minutes later brought the Patriots within five 29-24, the closest they got in the opening period. Texas Wesleyan ended the first half on a 6-2 run, to take a 35-26 lead into the break.
The Patriots started to comeback in the second half led by Morton who netted ten of the first 13 points of the half to give Cumberlands its first lead of the game 38-26 with 15:21 remaining. Texas Wesleyan used a 7-0 run to take a 43-38 advantage, before Wilkinson drained a three pointer with 13:17 left. The two teams traded baskets over the next several minutes before Yates' three-point play put UC ahead 50-49 with 11:03 remaining. Both teams continued to battle as the game saw two lead changes and three ties over the next four minutes evening the score at 58-58 with 7:17 remaining. The Rams went on an 8-2 run, before Will Gary (JR/Lexington, KY)'s fast break layup brought Cumberlands within four with 3:38 left. Morton cut the deficit to two with a jumper with 1:48 remaining. Two points was the closest the Patriots got as the Rams hit four free throws down the stretch for the 74-68 final.
Morton led the way for the Patriots with 22 points and ten rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Yates also recorded a double-double with 14 points and ten rebounds. Samuel added 15 points and dished out six assists in the game.
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