(MANKATO, Minn.) – The Central Missouri Mules rallied from a big first half deficit to take a second half lead, but eventually came up short 75-71 against Harding in the NCAA Central Regional First Round on Saturday night at the Taylor Center.
The loss ends Central Missouri’s season at 22-8.
The Mules scored the first points of the game on a Charles Hammork layup at the 19:23 mark, but the Bison (22-9) would score the next 13 points to open an 11-point lead with 16:21 to play in the half. Dominique Long ended the drought with a jumper at the 15:51 mark, but four more points from Harding made it 17-4 with 13:32 to play in the first.
Following a Matt Webb bucket, Widgett Washington stole the inbounds pass and scored a traditional three-point play to pull UCM within 17-9. The Mules cut the lead to five at 20-15 with just over 10 minutes to play in the half, but the Bison came right back with an 8-0 run to open a 13-point lead.
Central Missouri was able to whittle the lead down to eight with an 8-3 run, but Harding used an 11-3 run to build their biggest lead of the game at 42-26 with just over three minutes to play in the opening stanza. HU went into intermission with a 44-31 lead.
The Bison shot 69 percent in the first half, 18-of-26, including 6-of-10 from three-point range while the Mules struggled at 39 percent, 12-of-31.
The Mules opened the second half on a 10-2 run to pull within five at 46-41 with 16:17 to play in the game. Four quick points by the Bison pushed the lead back to nine. UCM made another run going on a 12-2 spurt to regain the lead 55-54 with 9:33 to play. Zach Bush’s steal and dunk brought UCM to within two and Matt Webb’s three-point play gave the Mules their first lead since 2-0. Hammork added a free throw on the next possession to give UCM a 56-54 lead with 9:20 to play.
The Mules had all the momentum and a chance to extend their lead, but went cold from the field missing their next seven shots. Zach Roddenberry tied the game on a layup to start a 7-0 run that put HU back in front 61-56 with 5:51 to play. A layup from Webb and a trey from Dominique Long tied the game at 61 with just under 5:30 to play.
A three-point play from Adam Sterrenberg put Harding back in front, but another bucket from Webb followed by two free throws from Washington put the Mules back in the lead 65-64 with 3:34 to play.
The Mules led by two with just under three minutes to play, but six straight points by the Bison gave them a 71-67 lead they would never relinquish. UCM made 1-of-2 at the free throw line to pull within three with 1:10 to play. Following a stop, the Mules had a chance to tie the game, but Hammork’s three-pointer was off the mark and UCM was forced to foul.
Sterrenberg hit a pair of foul shots to give HU a 73-68 lead with 11 seconds left. Long banked in a three and was fouled with four seconds left to get UCM within two. He intentionally missed the free throw, but the Bison got the rebound. Roddenberry made two free throws to give Harding a 75-71 lead and eventually the win.
Washington and Webb led UCM with 17 points apiece,while Long had 15. The Mules struggled from the field shooting just 37 percent (26-of-71) and 26 percent (6-of-23) from beyond the arc. UCM was 13-of-19 at the foul line for 68 percent.
Roddenberry led HU with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Weston Jameson had 12 points and Andraz Kavas chipped in 11. Harding shot 49 percent for the game (26-of-53) and made 6-of-18 from three-point range for 33 percent. HU was 17-of-23 at the charity stripe for 74 percent.
The Bison out-rebounded the Mules 44-36, but UCM had an 18-9 advantage in second chance points. UCM forced 15 turnovers and committed just five of their own, but the Mules had just seven assists on 26 made baskets.