MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A strong first-half finish and a blistering start in the second 20 minutes by the Lee University men was far too much for Loyola (La.) University on Thursday in the second day of play in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament.
The 81-63 victory advanced the Flames to the semifinal round on Friday at 5 p.m. EST. Lee is slated to face Faulkner University. The Eagles defeated Southern Wesleyan, 79-64.
After losing to Emmanuel College on Monday, some were left wondering how the 29-2 Flames would respond, especially after being on the road for the past two weeks. Coach Tommy Brown's team answered with a solid effort against a Loyola team that had been playing well of late and had stormed past Coastal Georgia in the opening round of the tourney.
Will Barnes was in an attacking mode and scored 17 of his final 23 points in the first half. Barnes also had four rebounds and two assists. Four Flames hit the double-figure mark as big Steve Bennett powered his way to an eye-catching double-double, 16 points and 16 rebounds. All totaled Lee won the rebounding war, 46-34.
The Flames got tough guard play from Duran Blue and Chase Dunn. Each had 10 points and Blue had four rebounds and five assists. Chad Lee played his role to perfection with eight points and seven boards. Corey Billingsley had four points, six boards and four assists.
"We knew Loyola was going to be tough," said coach Tommy Brown. "In fact we started working on things they do on Sunday. Our staff did a good job of preparing our guys and they responded. You can't ask for anything more."
Lee built up a 21-point lead at the 9:52 mark of the second half and Loyola could only cut the gap to 15 points once. "They are a tough group, but our guys played physical down low," noted Brown. "We got a strong effort from ‘Big Steve,’ Chad and Pat (Shaughnessy). And Corey woke up and gave us a lift after a slow start." Lee outbattled the Wolf Pack 32-16 in points in the paint.
The Flames, ranked second in this week's NAIA poll, were impressive across the board, hitting 45 percent from the field, 42 percent from behind the arc and 13-of-15 charity tosses.
Loyola also had four players in double figures. McCall Tomeny had 13 points and nine boards. Kyle Simmons also had 13, while Danile Kuhl added 11 and Robert Lovaglio totaled 10. The Wolf Pack ended the season at 16-14.