KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Top-seeded Carroll (Mont.) made a strong push late in the first half to create some distance, then kept eighth-seeded Mount Mercy at bay in an 82-69 victory over the Mustangs in the first round of the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship on Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium.
Mount Mercy had an early three-point lead when Chris Ford hit a pair of free throws to make it 12-9 with 15:30 to go in the first half. A 19-5 run by the fourth-ranked Saints gave them a double-digit lead for the first time at 28-17 with just under eight minutes to play in the period. The Mustangs got within five at 31-26 with 4:56 remaining, but Carroll pushed its advantage back to double figures at 45-32 at the break.
In the second half, Mount Mercy closed the gap to eight, 66-58, when Jake Anderson knocked down two foul shots with 6:44 left. The Saints scored 10 of the next 11 points, however, and ended the Mustangs' debut at the NAIA Division I championship. It was Mount Mercy's third national tournament appearance in four years, with the previous two trips taking them to the NAIA Division II event in Branson, Mo.
Carroll (28-5) came in as the best shooting team in the country, and they showed why, hitting 52 percent from the field. The nation's top free throw shooting team also went 22-of-24 (91.7%) from the charity stripe, while the Mustangs (21-12) were just 19-of-29 from the line. Mount Mercy outrebounded the Saints, 31-28, but committed 15 turnovers compared to only 10 for Carroll.
Derik Gogg led four Mustangs in double figures with 15 points. Anderson, Ford and Sheawn Bedford, Jr., added 12 points apiece. CJ Parker pulled down a team-high five rebounds while Bedford, Jr., and Antwain Strong grabbed four each. Ford, Strong and Ben Struss each tallied four assists, Gogg had two blocks and a pair of steals.
Zach Taylor, the Frontier Conference Player of the Year, led the Saints with 21 points, five rebounds and nine assists. Steven Helm chipped in 15 points, Matt Wyman 14 and Ryan Imhoff 12. Wyman also had a game-high nine boards. In their 11th appearance at the national tournament, Carroll advances to the second round against fourth-seeded Southwestern Assemblies of God University (Texas) on Friday at 10:45 a.m.