By Chad Waller | Director of Communications and Sports Information and Media Services
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) No. 7 seed Dillard (La.) will make its first trip back to the Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship an extended stay with the biggest upset of the 2016 event thus far, defeating No. 2 seed Hope International (Calif.), 111-91 in the first round. The Blue Devils will face No. 6-seed Campbellsville (Ky.) on Friday, March 18 at 4:30 p.m.
The Royals and Blue Devils battled to a two-point halftime margin with Hope International, which shot 60 percent, leading 44-42. DU, which only shot .472 at that point, kept it close with four more points off turnovers and one more second-chance point.
The Blue Devils, who are making their first trip to the Championship since 2003, then blew it wide open with a 17-5 run to start the second stanza and did not look back from there. Hope International closed to within nine late, but Dillard closed strong to advance. A second-period shooting mark of .595 helped the victors to a .534-.518 overall edge. Dillard was also better on the glass (39-34) and in turnovers (9-19).
In a closely-officiated contest, the teams combined for 59 fouls. In addition, Dillard was 26-for-33 at the line and Hope International was 26-for-41.
The Blue Devils’ 111 points is the most in the tournament this season and the most in a tournament regulation game since Point Park (Pa.) also put up 111 points in a 111-100 first-round win over Lipscomb (Tenn.) in 1997.
“I feel really good because it was a total team effort, I was concerned in the first half because we got in foul trouble,” said Dillard Head Coach Mike Newell. “Demetric, our best player, didn’t play most of the game, but Dennis Hightower stepped up and did a great job as well as DJ Reed and Dexter too; I can go right down the list, great team effort and that’s what we are about.
DU, which improves to 22-10, was paced by Dennis Hightower with a game-high 38 points. He was instrumental in his team’s 69-point second-half explosion, scoring 32 after halftime. The junior was 11-for-19 from the field and 14-for-17 at the charity stripe and also dished out seven assists and stole three passes.
Hightower was joined in double figures by Ramon Johnson (19), Dennis Reed (13), Jessie Ward and Dexter Porchia (both with 10). Reed posted a double-double with 10 rebounds as well.
“This was a tough game for us,” said Hope International Head Coach Bill Czech. “Dillard played well and is obviously well-coached. They wanted it and they went out and got it. Our guys executed well on the offensive end in the first half but we got into a little bit of a hole in the second half and it’s hard to play catch-up against a good team. All year it’s been about playing with a lead for us and we didn’t have that here today.”
Jordan Pellum paced Hope International with 21 points, while Liam Hunt was next with 14 points. Ramon Mejia (13), Bernard Ireland (12), and Dondre Bryant (11) also reached double digits.
Hope International, who was a 2015 national semifinalist, finishes its season with a 26-7 record