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The nation's fifth-ranked field-goal percentage team (49.6) struggled mightily to connect in the first half on Thursday, but they recovered in time to gain control in the second half. No. 14 Georgetown (Ky.) made only 10-of-33 shots in the opening stanza and was forced to dig in on the glass and on the defensive end to claim a 70-62 victory over Lee (Tenn.) in a first-round contest at the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship.
"I kept telling them to stop getting frustrated and to keep playing. It was good that we could tough it out," said Georgetown coach Chris Briggs. "We got some stops defensively, not every time, but when we needed them we got them."
Georgetown will play the winner between No. 3 Robert Morris (Ill.) and Southern-New Orleans (La.) on Friday at 9:45 p.m. CDT.
Despite 35.9 percent shooting for the game, Georgetown led for nearly the entire second half en route to its 53rd win all-time at the national tournament. Instead of relying upon their usually efficient offense, the Tigers used a stellar defensive effort to force 20 turnovers while committing just 10 turnovers of their own. They also grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and turned them into 18 second-chance points. Overall, Georgetown out-rebounded Lee 44-37 and made 10 more free throws.
"Georgetown just out-toughed us," Lee head coach Tommy Brown said. "I thought we played pretty well in the first half but foul trouble really hurt us. We never seemed to get our offense in gear in the second half.
"But when you give up 19 offensive rebounds, you are not going to beat anyone in this tournament. Turnovers also killed us, and a lot were unforced."
Georgetown trailed by as many as seven and was down three when it made its crucial 13-2 run that culminated at the 12:42 mark of the second half and put the Tigers in front 48-40. Allan Thomas and Aaron Morris each tallied five points during the run in which Morris finished with a basket in the lane.
The Flames hovered within striking distance the rest of the way, cutting the deficit to 64-60 with 1:37 left after a Ryan Westbrook 3-pointer. Georgetown responded by draining its final six attempts from the free throw line, including four from Garel Craig, after going a mere 12-for-25 from the charity stripe until the game's final minute.
The Tigers got a balanced scoring effort as five players went for double-figures: Johonne Hamilton (14), Jordan DeMercy (12), Craig (11), Morris (11) and Thomas (10). DeMercy also added a game-high 15 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.
Westbrook led all scorers with 20 points, making him the only Flame with at least 10 points. After 50 percent shooting in the opening half, Lee slumped to 37 percent in the second half.
Georgetown improved to 25-8 this season and 53-29 all-time in its 31 national tournament appearances. Lee ends its season at 20-9 overall and fell to 8-9 in nine appearances at the National Championship.
Georgetown: Georgetown is making its record 32nd appearance in the national tournament and 21st-straight trip, also a NAIA Division I record ... The Tigers have a record now of 53-29 all-time including a 22-9 mark in opening round games ... After losing back-to-back first round games in 2009 and 2010, the Tigers have now won the last two after knocking off Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) in 2011 ... Georgetown played without leading scorer and rebounder Maurice Pearson, who was sidelined with an undisclosed injury ... The Tigers entered the game ranked No. 4 in the NAIA in rebounding margin (+8.0), fifth in field goal percentage (.496), seventh in scoring margin (+12.8) and eighth in total rebounds per game (41.9) ... Senior forward Jordan DeMercy matched the second-best single-game rebounding total of the tournament with 15.
Lee: The Flames are appearing in their ninth national tournament and seventh-straight dating back to 2006 ... Lee also fell to Georgetown in the 2003 quarterfinals by a score of 71-58 ... The loss moves Lee's all-time tournament record to 8-9, including a 5-4 clip in opening round contests ... Southern States Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year award winner Ryan Westbrooks had his ninth game this season with at least 20 points ... The Flames entered the tournament ranked fourth in the NAIA in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.284) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (.393).