(MANKATO, Minn.) — The Central Missouri Mules got a free throw with 2.4 seconds to play in overtime and outlasted Northwest Missouri 60-59 on Tuesday night to capture the NCAA-II Central Region Championship. With the win, the Mules advance to their third Elite Eight under head coach Kim Anderson.
The NCAA-II Elite Eight tournament is in Evansville, Ind. UCM will face Southern Connecticut State on Wednesday, March 26.
The Mules (27-5) trailed Northwest Missouri (24-9) 7-5 in the early going as both teams struggled offensively. Jordan Epps scored five straight points to put UCM in front 10-7. A free from Dillon Deck made the lead four, but a three from DeShaun Cooper cut it to one, 11-10, with 9:27 to play in the half.
Tyler Funk scored three straight points to tie the game at 13-13 and then Bryston Williams knocked down two free throws to put the Bearcats back in front 15-13 with 5:33 to play. Cooper knocked down a jumper to push NWMSU in front by four, but Jon Gilliam drained a three to pull UCM back within one at 17-16 at the 4:45 mark.
The Mules tied the game at 18 on a jumper from Charles Hammork, but Williams knocked down a three to put NWMSU up 21-18. The Mules went back in front 22-21 on a Preston Brunz jumper, but the Bearcats closed the half on a 5-0 run to lead 26-22 at halftime.
Brunz knocked down a pair of threes in the opening 90 seconds of the second half and Deck added a layup to put the Mules back in front 30-28. The Bearcats tied the game at 32-32 on a Zach Schneider three and took the lead on a pair of Funk free throws. Brennen Hughes‘ layup at the 15:02 mark tied the game at 34 and Brunz knocked down a jumper to put UCM back in front.
A Matt Wallace layup tied the game again, but Epps scored a layup and Hammork knocked down a three to give the Mules their largest lead of the game, 41-36, with 12:18 to play. Conner Crooker knocked down a triple to pull Northwest Missouri within two, but Daylen Robinson scored a jumper to put UCM up by four. The jumper came at the 10:29 mark and would be the final made field goal for the Mules in regulation.
Grant Cozad made one of two free throws and Cooper nailed a three to tie the game at 43 with 7:19 to play in the game. Neither team would score until the 3:24 mark when Cozad again made one of two at the line to give the Bearcats a 44-43 lead.
Robinson made a pair of free throws to put UCM in front 45-44, but Cooper’s jumper at the 1:41 mark gave the Bearcats a one-point lead. Hammork was fouled with 26 seconds to play in regulation and made one of two to tie the game. Williams had a three-pointer at the buzzer that was off the mark and the game was headed to overtime.
Hammork’s driving layup 25 seconds into the extra period gave UCM a 48-46 lead. The Mules pushed their lead to three, but Schneider drilled a three to tie the game at 50-all with 2:47 to play. Cooper got a layup and a foul to put NWMSU in front 53-52 with just under two minutes to play, but TJ White put UCM back in front with a layup. On the next trip down the floor, Deck was fouled and calmly made two free throws to put UCM in front 56-53 with 1:05 to play.
A layup from Cooper made it a one-point game again, but Robinson drained a three with 28 seconds left to put the Mules up 59-55. Cooper was fouled on the next possession and made two free throws to cut it to a two-point game. After a foul, UCM missed both free throws giving the Bearcats a shot. Cooper’s three was airballed and Robinson was fouled with just over two seconds to play. After being fouled he tossed the ball into the air in celebration and was whistled for a technical foul.
Williams calmly hit both free throws to tie the game. Robinson then went to the other end and made one of two free throws with just over two seconds to play in the game to break the 59-all tie. Cooper had a good look at a three from just inside half court, but the ball bounced off the back of the rim and gave UCM the win.
The game had 12 ties and 17 lead changes as the teams battled back and forth throughout. The Mules finished the game shooting 47 percent from the field, 23 of 49, and 47 percent from three-point range, 7 of 15. UCM was 7 of 12 at the foul line for 58 percent.
Robinson led the Mules with 13 points. Hammork finished with a double-double 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Brunz had 10.
Cooper led all scorers with 24 points to lead the Bearcats. No other player had more than eight for Northwest Missouri. The Bearcats were 18 of 56 from the field for 32 percent and 8 of 24 from beyond the arc for 33 percent. They were 15 of 21 at the foul line for 71 percent.
Hammork was named the Central Region Tournament Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Deck.