Pioneers go cold, bow out in national tourney opener

Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 9:16 PM CST
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GLENDALE, Ariz. (NEWS RELEASE) - Season-low shooting and above-average turnovers proved a deadly combination for Wayland Baptist as the Pioneers fell to No. 20 University of Antelope Valley (Calif.) in the first round of the NAIA National Tournament here Tuesday afternoon, 77-68.

In the first-ever meeting between the two Pioneer teams, Wayland (23-9) – ranked the equivalent of 27th in the NAIA and seeded ninth in its quadrant of the 64-team national tourney field – led by nine in the first half and by as many as eight, 41-33, some 2½ minutes into the second half on a 3-pointer by RJ Mason. But the eighth-seeded UAV (26-2) scored 11 unanswered points as it set out on a pivotal 18-5 run that changed the direction of the game.

UAV’s initial 11 points gave the Cal Pac champions a 44-41 lead – their first time on top since three minutes after the opening tip – as Wayland missed seven field goals and suffered five turnovers while going scoreless for five minutes.

Back-to-back buckets by senior Parrish Hewitt – the last one a 3 -- finally ended the drought and gave Wayland its last lead of the game, 46-44, with 12:50 to play. UAV then went on a 7-0 run as it took control for good.

WBU got within one, 63-62, on a 3-pointer by Dylan McDougal with 3:25 to go, but UAV’s Levontay Ott immediately answered the bomb, then after a missed 3 and turnover by Wayland, UVA sealed it with back-to-backs dunks to make it an 8-point game with just over a minute to play.

UAV, which made just 3-of-21 3-pointers (14 percent), sank 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch to secure it.

Wayland suffered 15 turnovers, the most for the team since giving it away a season-worst 20 against Oklahoma-Panhandle State on Jan. 31.

WBU shot a season-worst 33 percent (22-of-66) for the game, just 30 percent (10-of-33) in the second half. That included a 7-of-25 effort (28 percent) from the 3-point range.

Junior D’Michael Bellfield paced Wayland with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Hewitt netted 11 and fellow seniors RJ Mason and Tedrick Wolfe 10 each.

Antelope Valley, which outrebounded Wayland 47-39, was credited with 44 points in the paint and 21 second-chance points, more than twice as many as WBU in both categories. UAV was paced by Michael Hayes with 21 points and eight rebounds. Andrew Lewis went 0-of-9 from distance but 11-of-13 at the foul line toward his 17 points, and Elias Ezenekwe got 13. Aaris Bonds produced eight points and a dozen rebounds.

UAV advances to play the winner between second-ranked Arizona Christian, the opening pod host, and 16th-seeded Corban (Ore.). The winner of Wednesday’s game moves on to the final site in Kansas City, Mo.

Wayland was looking to advance past the first round at nationals for the second time in its last seven appearances. The Pioneers now are 11-20 all-time in the national tourney.

It was UAV’s second national tourney win in program history as the program improved to 2-2 all-time.