KANSAS CITY, Mo.- The Rogers State men’s basketball team survived a late rally by Tougaloo (Miss.) as the Hillcats registered a 62-57 win and advance to the second round at the Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas, City, Mo.
RSU coach Justin Barkley was an assistant coach under Dustin Grover at Northeastern A&M in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Prior to that, he had assisted former Norse coach Larry Gipson for two seasons at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
The Hillcats took their largest lead of 11 points as senior Larry Cox hit a layup with three minutes to play. The Bulldogs used an 8-0 run, capped off with a trey by Horace Whitehead, to cut the deficit to 58-55 with 1:22 to play.
With 15 seconds remaining in the contest, Juystin Hammond came in off the bench and was immediately fouled when he caught the ball on the inbound. The junior guard drained a pair of free throws to push the lead to five points.
Whitehead pulled in an offensive rebounded and scored on the other end of the court with two seconds to play. The Bulldogs fouled Williams who sunk two shots at the charity stripe to secure the win.
“The game got away from us at the end from up 11 points to leading by just three.” Barkley said. “That’s really been our Achilles heel all season and we didn’t close out the game the way we should. But we didn’t hit the panic button and our conference play has prepared us for this type of game. At this point in the year it’s win and advance.”
The Hillcats never trailed in the second frame; however the Bulldogs cut the RSU lead to one point with 10 minutes to play as Donteeno Todd drained a triple. Williams answered with his first trey of the contest which led to a 10-2 run, giving RSU a nine point advantage with seven minutes to play.
RSU clung to a single digit lead for most of the contest. In the opening stanza, the teams traded buckets to open the game but the Hillcats earned some breathing room with an 8-0 run.
Alex Ewings started the spurt with an off balance trey from the top of the arc while Williams capped off the run with a pair of made free throws. RSU ended the half with a 6-3 run to take a 28-21 lead into intermission.
Williams poured in 15 second half points to lead the Hillcats with 17 points and seven rebounds. Larry Cox added 12 points and Kendrell Thompson tallied 11 points.
“Donald has been in big games and comes from good programs, we ride with him and die with him,” Barkley said. “Larry is a gamer. The bigger the game the better he plays. I expect a lot of him and the four other seniors. They played with a lot of heart and energy and focus. There was no question; they were ready to play today. Kudos to the team, they wanted it.”
The Hillcats shot 41 percent from the field and 75 percent for the charity stripe. The Cats won the battle of the boards 46-36 while committing 19 turnovers.
The Bulldogs shot just 29 percent from the field while shooting 9 of 41 from long distance. Marquise Mems led all scorers with 20 points.
Rogers State (22-8) will return to action on Friday morning at 9 a.m. against the winner of Evangel (Mo.) (23-9) and eighth seeded Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) (21-9).
Live audio will be streamed on the Hillcat Network at www.rsuhillcats.com/live.