Despite rallying for 44 points in the second half of Friday night, fourth-seeded and No. 24-ranked Evangel ended the Raven men's basketball teams run through the 2014 HAAC Tournament, 73-58.
Top-seeded and No. 10-ranked Benedictine (22-8) used a 44.8 percent shooting effort and went 5 of 10 from beyond the arc in the second half to outscore Evangel (23-9) 44-39 but couldn't overcome a season low 14 points at the half to suffer the loss.
Evangel limited Benedictine to just four first-half field goals as they converted 11 to lead 34-14 at the break.
After John Harris Jr. knocked down the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer less than two minutes into the game, Evangel's Billy Thomas II answered with the first of five first-half 3-pointers for the Crusaders.
After trading baskets and with the score remaining within a possesion, Evangel outscored Benedictine 22-6 over the final 14 minutes of the first half to break the game open.
By the midway point of the second half, Evangel pushed its lead to 29 points, their largest of the game.
At that point, Benedictine changed up their defense which sparked the offense over the final 10 mintues of the game.
The Ravens outscored the Crusaders 32-18 over those final 10 mintues of the game but could never get over the hump as Evangel managed just enough offense to keep Benedictine at arm's length.
Zack Kleine, the HAAC Co-Player of the Year, scored a game-high 26 points for the Crusaders as Evangel finished with four players in double figures.
The Ravens bench outscored the Crusaders 20-4, anchored by a career-high 11 points from Austin Eckert. Eckert scored all 11 points in the second half over 12 minutes of action as he helped spark Benedictine's second-half rally. He converted three of Benedictine's five second-half 3-pointers as the Ravens converted on 50 percent from beyond the arc in the second half.
The Ravens 22 wins moves this season to fourth on the Ravens single-season wins list. Benedictine will now wait for word on their seeding for the 77th annual Buffalo Funds-NAIA Div. I National Tournament, which will be announced during a internet video stream selection show at 8 p.m. March 12.
Evangel advances to the HAAC Championship game against No. 25 and third-seeded MNU on Monday.