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Basketball (M)

Freshmen Lead Royals to Road Win

Royals Qualify for Regional Tournament

The Ecclesia Royals (14-4) traveled to Moberly, Missouri to face Central Christian College (11-8). The Saints of Central Christian are receiving votes in the NCCAA Division 2 Top 10 poll. Coming off of an unprecedented back-to-back forfeits due to administrative difficulties for visiting opponents, Robert Morris University and North American University, it has been over 10 days since the Royals played a game.

"Typically weather sets in this time of year and it gets tough to travel, but back to back games being canceled or forfeited is not something that happens at the college level. We were pretty upset, to put it lightly, that this happened."

"You know, having that extra rest can be good or it can be really bad, our guys chose for it to be a good thing. We took all that energy we had been saving up from not playing and let it out on the road against a very good team. Central Christian was 7-1 at home coming into tonight and I knew it would take a great effort on our part to win this game. The guys gave better than a great effort."

The Royals let the Saints hang for the first 2:00 before blowing open a 15-6 lead at the 14:00 mark. The Royals held off an 8-0 run by the Saints only to respond with an 8-0 run of their own to extend the lead to 23-14. The Royals would then go on an 18-7 run to close the half with a lead of 41-21.

Picking up where they left off, the Royals extended their lead to 24 before the Saints mounted a ferocious comeback and cut the lead to 48-41 with under 5:00 remaining. The battle-tested Royals would rally to an 82-69 victory knocking down 4 of their final 5 free throw attempts to lock-up the road-win.

"Road wins aren't easy, I told the guys they've got one loss at home just like we have one loss at home, they aren't going down easy. I told them to play with purpose tonight and they definitely did."

"I thought everyone played well, but our freshmen continue to improve each game. I think that really shows a lot about our program, first of all we have upperclassmen that are deferring to these guys at times, that take leadership and Wes Bradford and Austin Burroughs certainly lead the way there."

"I think it also shows how hard those three have been working to improve each day and then I think our assistant coaches have done a tremendous job helping develop these guys, not just on the court, but their confidence as well. Coach Gattin with the guards, David and Jamarius and then Coach McCarron with Randy. A lot of work goes into our practices from the players and the coaches and it shows that if you show up each day, you will improve!"

The three freshmen led the Royals in scoring with Randy Hempstead finishing with 16 points and 6 rebounds while David Gaut and Jamarius Graves chipped in 12 and 10 respectively and each pulled down 4 rebounds. Wes Bradford filled the stat sheet again with 9 points, 7 rebounds,and 5 assits on the night with 0 turnovers.

Coach Smith's praise of his team has been a frequent occurrence recently as the Royals have put together another lengthy winning streak, already besting last year's win total by 3 wins with 9 games left on the year. This win marks number 14 which guarantees the Royals a place in the Central Region Tournament as the team can finish no lower than .500 on the year.

"A lot of people think the .500 rule is something the NCCAA or the school has put together, when really the NCCAA allows everyone in the region to qualify. When I got here I told administration there is no way we would go to regionals without having a winning season though. Not everyone deserves a post-season, you have to win to be rewarded, that's the way things work in this world. This team has been winning, has been playing extremely well, and absolutely deserves to compete in the post-season."

"People don't realize that our region consists of teams from NCAA Division 2 like Colorado Christian, who is actually hosting the region this year, Oklahoma Baptist, and other great NAIA programs like Southwestern Assemblies of God who is currently top 25 in the nation. Our region is probably the toughest in the nation so we schedule tough to prepare ourselves to compete in the Regional Tournament. We have competed with just about everyone on our schedule from start to finish and have shown we can play on the same stage as these higher level programs. We will have our shot come March."

The Royals actually defeated Oklahoma Baptist last year by 12 points on the road, and the Royals played within 10 with Division 2 opponent Oklahoma Panhandle State in an exhibition match-up before having to foul late in the game, which extended their lead. Other notable performances include the commanding 30-point victory over NAIA D1 and Sooner Athletic Conference member Bacone College on the road and a 5-point loss to St. Thomas on the road who is currently ranked fifth in the Red River Conference.

The Royals will face Central Region rival Crowley's Ridge College at home on Saturday with a scheduled tip of 2:00 PM.

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