POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – The #16 Foresters of Huntington University suffered an 84-76 loss to Southeastern University (Fla.) in the opening round of the 2014 NAIA Division II National Basketball Championship Wednesday afternoon to make a premature exit from the tourney.
It marks the program’s eighth time to compete on the national stage where the Foresters have posted 11 wins against eight losses with their highest finish coming in 2006 when they reached the championship game.
The Foresters wasted little time taking a quick lead of 9-4 behind back-to-back buckets by Alec Peterson. Over the next ten minutes, HU built the lead to as many as 11 points, 28-17, thanks in large part to a 13-0 run midway through the period before settling for a seven-point lead of 36-29 by halftime.
Behind the play of Shane Merryman, who finished the half with 18 points and nine rebounds, Huntington shot 45.2 percent (14-for-31) and committed six turnovers through the first twenty minutes.
It was the tale of two halves as the Fire dialed up their defensive intensity to outscore Huntington by 15 in the final period to send the Foresters reeling. HU coughed up the ball five straight possessions thanks to Southeastern’s full court pressure to find themselves in a 37-36 hole by the 17:57 mark.
The Foresters would rally back to take the lead on three different occasions with their last advantage of 46-45 coming with just over 13 minutes to go before the Fire rattled off nine straight points in a 90-second span to build a 54-46 cushion that HU never quite recovered from.
Huntington closed the gap to four with nine minutes remaining but let a golden opportunity slip away. Over the next three minutes, HU missed four free throws and two shots allowing the Fire to build the lead back to double digits at 68-58. It was the final dagger as Southeastern held HU at arm’s length the final six minutes to cruise to the eight-point upset.
Merryman finished with 28 points on 11-for-14 shooting and a game-high nine rebounds. Daniel Woll came off the bench to score 14 points and Peterson tossed in ten as HU’s only other double digit scorers.
Huntington was 30-59 from the field for 50.8 percent but was just 2-14 from the three-point line. They tallied ten turnovers in the final period to finish with 16 for the game to SU’s six but won the battle of the boards 39-23.
Southeastern, making their first appearance to the national tournament, was led by Dwayne Johnson's 29 points. Jake Hodges and Brandon Moore added 14 and ten points respectively.
The Fire (25-6) advances to the Sweet Sixteen to face Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) on Friday, March 14 at 1:45 pm.
The Foresters wrap up the season with a 24-8 record.