Entering the game against one of the top-scoring teams in the country, the No. 21 Freed-Hardeman University Lions leaned on their defense to punch their ticket to the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Tournament Round of 16 by topping the (RV) Dordt (Iowa) University Defenders. FHU emerged victorious with a 65-53 final, despite the Defenders averaging 90.9 points per game.
An early start by the Defenders was quickly erased when Freed-Hardeman’s (25-8) Dawson Bailey first connected for a mid-range jumper before knocking down a 3-pointer to give FHU a lead. Dordt’s Cade Bleeker answered with a triple of his own before Hunter Scurlock tallied four consecutive points. Geraldo Lane’s jumper was followed by JaQuan Lax’s steal and score to continue to inch the Lion lead ahead, now 13-9 with 13:52 remaining in the half. A layup from Jackson Louscher drew the Defenders within one possession, but the Lions exploded with a 14-point unanswered run across four minutes including back-to-back fast break buckets from Scurlock and Peyton Law. A 3-pointer from Law gave Freed-Hardeman their largest lead of the half at 18 with 4:05 remaining. Dordt would chip away at the lead before the buzzer sounded for a 34-23 halftime break in favor of the hosting Lions.
Slowly, the Dordt (26-7) shooters began to hit their stride, making a jumper here, followed by a 3-pointer there. A pair of free throws by Bryce Coppock at 15:35 saw the Lions’ lead cut down to two possessions at 38-32. Law would reignite the Brewer Sports Center crowd by taking a steal coast-to-coast and slamming home the bucket which also ignited the Lion shooters, where JJ Wheat and Brandon Thomas Paired up for 10 unanswered points to give the Lions a 57-43 lead with 4:46 remaining. A layup from Coppock drew the Defenders within eight points, but Wheat’s four straight free throws helped the Lions lift the First and Second Round Championship trophy with a 65-53 win.
Bryce Coppock was Dordt’s leading man, tallying a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards. Cade Bleeker had 13 points, while Jacob Vis collected 10 points.
Brandon Thomas led the charge for FHU, going 9-17 from the field to tally 18 points. JJ Wheat connected for 14 buckets, while Peyton Law was a point and a rebound short of a double-double with nine of each. JaQuan Lax led with three of FHU’s 11 steals.
The Lions took the court Tuesday.