(EVANSVILLE, Ind.) — TJ White made a layup with one second left and Metro State’s last second three was off the mark as 20th-ranked Central Missouri beat No. 1 Metro State 71-69 in the national semifinals on Thursday night.
The win advances UCM to the second national championship game in school history at 2 p.m. Saturday.
White scored the layup on an assist from Daylen Robinson, who drove to the bucket with under five seconds to play and passed the ball around a double team for the point blank shot. The top-ranked Roadrunners (32-2) had rallied from 11 points down in the second half to tie the game as the teams battled back and forth down the stretch.
Central Missouri (29-5) led by eight, 58-50, with 8:57 to play in the game, but Metro State rallied to tie the game at 62-all with 3:41 to play in regulation. The game was tied three times from that point on, but the Mules never got behind and White’s layup gave them their first national title game appearance since 1984.
The Mules jumped out to an early four point lead as they were hot from the field to start. Brennen Hughes layup at the 13:07 mark gave UCM a 15-11 lead, but a 7-0 run by the Roadrunners put Metro State in front 18-15. Charles Hammork scored a three-point play to tie the game at 18 and Dillon Deck‘s layup gave UCM a two-point advantage.
The teams traded buckets through much of the first half before a 9-2 spurt gave Central Missouri a 35-26 lead with 3:26 to play in the half. Metro State cut the deficit to five, but a three from Jordan Epps gave UCM a 42-34 halftime lead.
The Roadrunners cut the Mule lead back to five right out of the intermission, but a three-point play from Hammork and a jumper from Daylen Robinson gave UCM a 48-37 lead with 17:41 to play. A quick 4-0 spurt by Metro State cut the lead back to single digits as they began to whittle away at the lead.
White scored back-to-back buckets near the 14:00 mark to push UCM back in front by 11, but the Roadrunners answered right back with four straight points of their own.
The lead was nine at 58-49 with 9:54 to play in the game, but a 6-0 run for Metro State cut the lead to three and a bigger 13-4 run tied the game at 62-62.
Hammork led the way for Central Missouri with a double-double 14 points and 10 rebounds. Robinson had 13 points and Deck finished with 12. White added 11 off the bench to go along with seven rebounds.
UCM shot 47 percent for the game, 23 of 49, and made 6 of 17 three-point attempts for 35 percent. The Mules struggled at the foul line going 19 of 33 for 58 percent. After shooting a perfect 9 for 9 in the first half, UCM went just 10 of 24 in the second half.
The Mules turned the ball over 11 times, leading to 18 Metro State points.
The Roadrunners were led in scoring by Brandon Jefferson’s 21 points. The National Player of the Year was 4 of 17 from the field, but tied an Elite Eight record going 12 of 12 at the free-throw line.
Nicholas Kay had 17 points on 6 of 20 shooting and Mitch McCarron finished with 13 points. MSU was 19 of 59 from the field for 32 percent. They were just 2 of 14 from three-point range for 14 percent, but made 29 of 32 at the charity stripe for 91 percent.
Metro State held a 30-22 advantage in points in the paint, 18-6 in points off turnovers, but the UCM bench outscored MSU’s 25-7.
The win is the first in the Final Four for Mules head coach Kim Anderson and advances the Mules to their first national championship game in 30 years.
The Mules will take on the winner West Liberty (30-3) and South Carolina-Aiken (33-3) on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the National Championship Game. The game will be broadcast to a national television audience on CBS.