The Mules used a 16-8 run over the last 3:21 that gave them a chance at the end.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half with UCM shooting just 31 percent and Northeastern State (16-12) not much better at 35 percent. The Mules used a quick 4-0 run midway through the first half to grab their largest lead of the game at 16-13 with 7:47 to play in the half.
A quick 4-0 run the other way gave the RiverHawks the lead back with just over five and a half minutes on the clock. The game was back and forth in the closing minutes of the half with the Mules grabbing their final lead of the game 25-24, at the 2:00 mark. The RiverHawks, however, closed the opening stanza on a 5-0 run and led 29-24 at the intermission.
The Mules opened the second half on a 5-0 run to tie the game, but Michael Harmon put NSU back in front with a layup at the 17:04 mark. The RiverHawks pushed the lead to as many as five, but a Dillon Deck layup and Daylen Robinson free throw cut the deficit to 40-38 with 13:25 to play.
That’s when Northeastern State caught fire. A three-pointer from Bryton Hobbs sparked a 14-2 run to give NSU a 54-40 lead with 10:12 to play in the game. Hobbs scored 11 of the 14 points during the run, including three treys.
The lead grew to 15 at 61-46 with 8:06 to play when UCM began to crawl back into the game. Preston Brunz scored eight straight points, including back-to-back threes to pull the Mules within seven at 63-56 with 6:03 on the clock. A pair of free throws from Hobbs pushed the lead back to nine and later a three-point play from Landon DeMasters pushed the lead back to 10.
Deck scored a traditional three-point play to pull UCM with seven and followed a DeMasters layup Robinson drained a three to pull UCM within 70-64 with 4:19 to play. The RiverHawks answered, as they did all game, with four quick points to push the lead back to double digits.
The Mules hit four of five free throws in their next two trips down the court to pull within six again and following a made free throw from the RiverHawks, Brunz drilled another three to make it a four-point game, 77-73, with :56 remaining.
Amir Gilliam made a pair at the foul line to push NSU back in front by six, but Brunz hit another triple and UCM trailed 79-76 with :44 to play. Hobbs made one of two at the line on the next trip and then Marcus Sheppard hit a pair and NSU led by six again, 82-76.
Jon Gilliam‘s three at the :17 mark cut the margin to 82-79, but Hobbs hit two more free throws to give NSU an 84-79 lead. Brunz hit his fifth three of the half to pull UCM within two at 84-82 with seven seconds left. Central Missouri fouled NSU on the inbounds and Amir Gilliam missed both free throws giving UCM a chance.
Charles Hammork passed up court to Robinson, but his desperation three from just inside half court was off the mark at the buzzer and the comeback fell short.
The Mules shot 43 percent for the game, 28 of 65, and made 8 of 17 three-point attempts for 47 percent. UCM struggled at the foul line making just 18 of 30 attempts for 60 percent.
Brunz, Deck and Robinson all finished with 17 points apiece, while Hammork chipped in 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Hobbs led NSU with a game-high 31 points on 7 of 19 shooting, but he was 6 of 10 from long range and 11 of 12 at the foul line. He also had a team-high nine boards to go along with five assists.. DeMasters finished with 16 points and Harmon had 11.
The RiverHawks shot 44 percent from the field, 22 of 50, and made 12 of 23 from beyond the arc for 52 percent. NSU wa 28 of 33 at the free throw line for 85 percent.
The Mules out-rebounded NSU 39-37 and held a 32-14 advantage in points in the paint.
The loss drops UCM’s record to 24-5 on the season and the Mules must now wait until Sunday night’s NCAA Selection Show at 9:30 p.m. to find out their postseason fate. UCM fans are invited to Tradition’s Restaurant at Pertle Springs to watch the selection show with the Mules and Jennies teams.