McWoods Drops 18; Golden Eagles Survive Life (Ga.), 68-66

KANSAS CITY (March 14, 2013) — With the game deadlocked at 66 and only 41 seconds remaining, senior guard E.J. McWoods intercepted a Running Eagles’ pass, drew a foul and converted both shots at the free throw line to hand No. 4 John Brown (28-6) a narrow 68-66 opening round victory over Life (Ga.) (19-13) this afternoon at Municipal Auditorium at the 2013 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Championships.

McWoods finished with a game-high 18 points, leading three Golden Eagles in double-digit scoring. Senior guard Coleson Rakestraw and freshman guard Kofi Josephs each finished with 15 points apiece as Rakestraw finished with a game-high four assists. Josephs and Rakestraw finished with a combined 30 shots attempted, as the rest of John Brown attempted only 25.

JBU now improves to 6-2 all-time in the first round of the National Championships, 10-5 overall. Life, on the other hand, has dropped six consecutive opening round games. “They’re a good team, and we kept giving them chances to stay in it,” admitted head coach Clark Sheehy. “But give them credit, they’re much better than their record, and they threw at us the toughest press we’ve seen all season.”

The Running Eagles entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in steals per game (13.129), while John Brown paces the country in three-point shooting percentage (39.6). Neither team could capitalize on its strength, as JBU shot just 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from behind the arc while Life forced 19 John Brown turnovers into 16 points. Despite the numerous miscues from the Golden Eagles, the fourth-seeded squad nabbed seven steals en route to producing 17 turnovers by Life.

LU manufactured 15 second-chance points as a result of 14 offensive rebounds while dominating the post, outscoring the Golden Eagles 30-24 in the paint. Max Hopfgartner secured a game-high six caroms for John Brown, although Life outrebounded the Golden Eagles, 38-35.

Life ran out to a quick 6-0 lead as JBU committed a turnover while missing its two opening shots. Abel Galliguez jump-started the offense by hitting a long jumper before Josephs landed his first bucket of the afternoon. A pair of Taylor free throws returned the score to six apiece as the Golden Eagles attempted to break through the difficult full-court press exacted by Life.

It was the John Brown defense that stepped up, however, as the Golden Eagles forced Life into a 6-of-25 (24.0 percent) slump over the remainder of the first half, allowing JBU to build a 12-point advantage, 37-25, when Rakestraw chipped in with a bucket with 1:49 left in the first stanza. Life entered the intermission down 10, 37-27, as the Running Eagles were unable to score a field goal over the final 5:11 of the first half.

The deficit for Life grew to 13 on three occasions, with the last coming at the 16:51 mark as Rakestraw landed another layup. The Running Eagles responded, however, as LU’s Barrington Ferguson notched nine of his career-high 17 points in the second half. His fast-break dunk at the 8:26 mark tied the score at 52-52, while teammate Mike Robertson’s spinning lay-up with just over a minute to go capped off a 34-20 run, handing Life the 66-65 lead, its first advantage since a 17-15 lead with 8:57 left in the first half.

After Josephs split a pair of shots at the line, knotting the score for the sixth time, McWoods made the defensive play of the game as he intercepted a Running Eagle pass that was destined for a weak-side player breaking under the basket. McWoods’ secured the would-be go-ahead bucket and immediately was fouled, sending the nation’s third-best free throw shooter to the line.

McWoods did not disappoint, easily converting both chances for a slim two-point lead, 68-66. As time expired a cutting LU player found a wide-open shooter on the left wing beyond the arc. LaTarrance Carter missed the opportunity, sending the Golden Eagles into the Round of 16. Both teams shot evenly as John Brown posted a 41.8 percent shooting clip from the field while the Running Eagles finished shooting at 41.4 percent.

“While they’re a good team, we kept giving them chances to stay in it. But give them credit, they’re much better than their record and they threw at us the toughest press we’ve seen all season. They featured some great athleticism, so that was an unusual style we had to work through. Thankfully we did.”

John Brown has now won 11 of its last 13 games and continues to add to its single-season program record 28 victories.

Stefan Pope pulled down a game-high 11 boards for the Running Eagles. After winning back-to-back national championships and three-of-four titles from 1997–2000, Life has gone winless in their last six trips to the national tournament. Life’s senior-stacked squad will lose 10 players as this game marked the end of their careers.

With the victory, John Brown's traditional seniors, McWoods and Rakestraw, have eclipsed the 100-win plateau, a program record for any four-year span.

The Golden Eagles will now advance to the Round of 16 for the fifth time in program history. John Brown faces No. 13 Georgetown (Ky.) (24-8) on Friday, March 15, at 12:30 p.m. The Tigers made the Round of 16 by defeating St. Thomas – Houston (Texas), 70-68, in the Round of 32 earlier this morning.

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