RIVERSIDE, Calif. --- On paper, this was supposed to be a mismatch. For all but a brief four-minute stretch, it was anything but.
Unfortunately, as valiantly as it tried, California Baptist University couldn't recover from that stretch.
The NAIA's No. 3-ranked Concordia, the GSAC's highest scoring team, and CBU, the GSAC's lowest-scoring team went toe-to-toe, and for 36 minutes, the Lancers threw everything they had at the Eagles-on both ends of the floor.
Behind the play of reserve Austin Simon, though, the Eagles used a 14-1 run to turn a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead with six minutes left then held off a furious Lancer rally that came down to the final possession, holding off what would have been a colossal upset and leaving the Van Dyne Gym with a 72-69 victory.
"That just might be the best team in the country," said CBU Head Coach Tim Collins. "I'm really proud of our guys and the effort they gave tonight. We had a good game plan and they executed it very well. They showed a lot of heart."
The loss snaps the Lancers' two-game winning streak as they drop to 9-9 overall, 3-6 GSAC. The Eagles improve to 17-2, 9-0 with their 15th straight win.
Luke Evans led four Lancers in double figures as he finished with
a career-high 23 points. He was 8-for-10 from the floor and helped the Lancers
outscore the Eagles, 42-24, in the paint.
Justus Von Wright finished with 13 points. Ivan Patterson had 12 points, five rebounds and five steals. Nick Paulson chipped in with 10 points and five assists.
"Luke, Ivan and Nick were great tonight," said Collins. "Not too many point guards can handle the type of pressure they throw at you, and Nick handled it very well."
The Lancers led 53-51 when Simon scored six straight to start a 14-1 Concordia run that spanned 3:43 midway through the second half. Simon had eight of his 12 points in the run, and Cameron Gliddon buried two 3-pointers, the second giving the Eagles a 65-54 lead, their largest of the game with 6:35 left, seemingly leaving the Lancers for dead.
But as they did all night, when the fight got tougher, they swung harder.
"We learned a lesson from Vanguard two weeks ago about battling back," said Collins. "We're starting to get a little more heart and learning how to play through adversity. If we can go through the next 11 games with the way we've been playing lately, it's going to impact our future positively."
Paulson stopped the bleeding with two free throws, and Evans added two more to get the Lancers back within seven (65-58) with 5:42 on the clock. A Von Wright jumper from the free throw line got the Lancers within 69-63 with 2:58 remaining and an Evans lay-up made it 69-65 with two minutes left.
The Lancers trailed 71-67 with 1:11 to go and got a defensive
stop, forcing a 26-foot 3-point heave from Taylor King. Kevin Deeb then scored
his first points of the game on a left-handed, reverse lay-up to get the
Lancers within 71-69 with 22.1 seconds left. King missed the first of two free
throws and made the second to make it 72-69 with 17 seconds remaining, giving
the Lancers one last chance.
Collins called timeout with 10.9 ticks, and Von Wright got a good look from the top of the key, but his game-tying attempt just missed and the Eagles held on.
"We had a good game plan, and I think our zone caused some problems for them," said Collins. "We fought back when we got down and gave ourselves a chance."
The Eagles average 86.6 points per game, were held 14 points below their average. Reigning GSAC Player of the Year Justin Johnson, who is the fourth-leading scorer in the GSAC, was held 14 points below his season average of 14 points.
Gliddon led five Eagles in double figures with 15 points, all from beyond the arc. The Eagles finished 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) from downtown and 16-for-20 (80 percent) from the line, while the Lancers were just 2-for-11 (18.2 percent) from the 3-point line and just 13-for-22 (59.1 percent) from the line.
"We missed too many free throws, and you can't do that and expect to beat a team like Concordia," said Collins.
Twice in the first half the Lancers opened eight-point leads. The first came with 13:21 left when an Evans lay-up made it 13-5. The Eagles responded with an 11-2 flurry to take their first lead of the game at 16-15 with 9:55 remaining. The second came on a 3-pointer by Von Wright that gave the Lancers a 28-20 lead with 5:33 left.
Peter Smith and Gliddon hit back-to-back triples, and Jarrel Smith tied the game at 28-28 with a jumper. That's when things went back-and-forth in the final three minutes before Paulson gave the Lancers a 38-37 lead with two free throws with two seconds left.
There were 11 lead changes and nine ties in the 40 minutes.