(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) — The Central Missouri Mules led from start to finish in a 76-64 win over Northwest Missouri on Saturday afternoon at the UCM Multipurpose Building.
The win gives the Mules a share of the MIAA regular season title with the Bearcats and the No. 1 seed in next week’s MIAA Tournament.
The Mules opened the scoring on a jumper from Dillon Deck and following a DeShaun Cooper layup the Mules rattled off six straight points to take an 8-2 lead and force a Bearcat timeout.
Northwest Missouri scored four quick points out of the timeout to pull within a pair. The lead was still two at 12-10 when Daylen Robinson hit a layup and Charles Hammorknailed a jumper to push the lead to 16-10. After a Grant Cozad layup cut the lead to four, Ryan Donald converted on a three-point play, followed by a Jordan Epps jumper and another jumper from Donald and UCM led 23-12 with 11:03 to play in the half.
Central Missouri pushed the lead to 14 at 35-21 with 6:23 left in the opening period, but a quick 7-0 run by the Bearcats cut the lead to 35-28 with 4:42 remaining. The Bearcats cut the lead to six with just under four minutes left in the half, but the Mules ended the half on a 5-0 run to lead 42-31 at the intermission.
The teams traded buckets out of the halftime break before back-to-back buckets from Hammork gave UCM a 48-35 lead with 15:42 to play. The lead reached 14 again at 50-36, but a pair of free throws from Cooper and a trey from Zach Schneider cut the lead to nine with 13:26 left in the game.
Three more free throws for NWMSU made it a six point agme with 11:06 to play. A TJ White layup stemmed the tide for the moment, but another three from Schneider cut the deficit to five at 52-47 with just under 10 minutes to play in the half.
Epps drained a triple from the top of the key and followed it up with a fastbreak layup to push the lead back to 10 with eight and a half to play.
The Bearcats wouldn’t go away though and got back to within six on another three from Schneider with just under six minutes to play. They would get no closer though. Robinson hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to eight and Hammork made two more to give UCM a 66-56 lead with 3:33 to play.
Deck’s layup with 2:54 remaining made it a 12-point lead and the mules were able to ice the game away, claiming a share of their third straight conference crown.
Robinson led UCM with 17 points and six assists. Hammork finished with 16 points and eight rebounds and Donald added 10 points off the bench.
The Mules shot 51 percent from the floor, 26 of 51, but just 14 percent from three-point range, 2 of 14. UCM was 22 of 30 at the free throw line for 73 percent.
The Bearcats were led in scoring by Starzl’s 18 points. Cooper had 16 and Schneider chipped in 12 off the bench. NWMSU was 20 of 50 from the field for 40 percent and made 6 of 19 threes for 32 percent. The Bearcats were 18 of 30 at the foul line for 60 percent.
The Mules out-rebounded the Bearcats 35-33 and forced 15 Northwest turnovers compared to just 10 for UCM.
The win gives Central Missouri three straight conference championships for the first time in school history. It is the sixth MIAA regular season title under Kim Anderson and the 24th conference crown in school history.
The Mules earn the No. 1 seed in the MIAA Tournament and will play the winner of the Northeastern State/Washburn play-in game at noon Friday at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.