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Evergreen Advances After Thrilling 101-86 Comeback Victory

March 11, 2009

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - Legendary. A handful of games played by any college basketball team are destined to echo down through the institution's history. As soon as it ended, The Evergreen State College's 101-86 victory over 11th-seeded Bluefield College (Va.) on Wednesday in the first round of the NAIA Division II men's basketball national championships became such a game.

Fueled by Nate Menefee's record-shattering 48-point effort and a furious 47-16 run by the Geoducks as team, Evergreen rallied from a listless first 25 minutes to overcome a talented Bluefield squad and its own unstoppable force, 6-6 forward Omar Reed.

The Geoducks move into the tournament's round of 16 with a Friday match-up against sixth-seeded Indiana Wesleyan University. Down 70-54 with 14:31 to go after Domenic Zaccaria scored his only points of the game for the Rams (27-7) on what could have been an emotion-killing three-pointer, Evergreen (20-11) instead kicked into high gear and erased the lead in a matter of just nine minutes.

With 5:14 to go, Michael Ward's breakaway layup tied the game at 79. Moments later, Ward came up with the ball out of a scramble in the defensive end and was fouled; he made one of two free throws to give Evergreen its first lead of the game.

Bluefield re-tied the game briefly on a free throw by D.J. Goshay before Menefee took over. His 41st and 42nd points gave the Geoducks the lead for good, 82-80, with 4:11 to play, and he followed that with back-to-back drives that gave Evergreen some breathing room and forced Bluefield coach Jason Gillespie to call a timeout. But it was too late for the Rams to change Evergreen's momentum.

Menefee, whose 20 baskets on just 25 attempts were also an Evergreen record, had driven Evergreen into the lead; then John Levi III closed the door on any Ram comeback hopes.

In a 40-second span, Levi drove the length of the floor to score and draw the fifth foul on Bluefield's all-conference guard Curtis Dixon, made the free throw, then stuck the proverbial dagger into the Rams with a three from the top of the key that gave Evergreen a 92-82 lead with barely two minutes to play.

The Geoducks' attack, in fact, was far more balanced than the outburst by Menefee, who broke the Evergreen single game scoring record of 43 points (set by Quincy Wilder during Evergreen's last run to the national tournament in 2002) and fell just five points short of the tourney record, would indicate.

Menefee was joined in double figures by four players, Ward with 15, Levi with 12 and Nick Moore and Julio Feliciano with 11 each. Feliciano led Evergreen with 11 rebounds and four assists while Moore added 10 rebounds.

Although Evergreen ultimately outrebounded Bluefield, 47-38, the Geoducks nearly fell victim to the same ailment that struck them in their Cascade Collegiate Conference championship game loss at Oregon Tech � they allowed the Rams, paced by Reed's eight, 16 offensive boards and 15 second-chance points.

Reed, every bit as important and effective for Bluefield as Menefee was for the Geoducks, capped off a stellar junior season with 31 points and 15 boards. Dixon added 14 points while fellow All-Appalachian Conference guared Coryon Ross and Johnny Whitherspoon each had 13 as the Rams began the game red-hot from beyond the arc before finishing a mediocre 8-for-32.

Indiana Wesleyan (28-6), from the Mid Central Conference, advanced earlier Wednesday with a 67-61 win over Trinity Christian College (IL). Junior guard Antonio Murrell led the Wildcats with 18 points.

Friday's second round game begins at 2 p.m. PDT.