The 20th-ranked Mules fell behind fourth-ranked Minnesota State-Moorhead by 21 points early in the second half and couldn’t complete the comeback as they fell 71-60 in the NCAA-II Central Region Semifinals, ending their bid for back-to-back national championships. The Mules got back to within nine a couple of times late in the game, but could get no closer.
The Dragons (34-3) built an early four-point lead and were able to go up by five at 15-10 at the 12:52 mark, but the Mules (25-7) used a 10-0 run to lead 20-15 with 7:18 to play in the half. Brennen Hughes started the run with a layup and Dillon Deck finished it off with a bucket of his own to force an MSUM timeout.
The Dragons responded with a big run of their own that saw them take the lead they would never relinquish. Tanner Kretchman drilled a three and Aaron Lien hit a tough jump shot to tie the game and start a 16-0 run that gave MSUM a 31-20 lead with 1:50 to play in the half. In all, the Dragons ended the half on a 20-2 run, including a tip-in just before the buzzer from Urbane Bingham. Moorhead led 35-22 at the intermission, the largest halftime deficit the Mules had faced all season.
The Dragons started the second half right where they left off in the first, opening the second half on a 14-6 run that gave them a 49-28 lead with 16:19 to play in the game. They hit four of their first five three-point attempts in the half to blow the game open.
The Mules kept fighting back, however. They cut the lead to 12 with a 15-6 run to make it 55-43 with 6:17 to play. MSUM answered with a timely three from Tyler Vaughan to push the lead back to 15. A three-pointer from Jordan Epps and two free throws from Deck cut the lead to nine, 59-50, with 4:42 to play in the game. The Mules forced a turnover and had a chance to make it a two-possession game, but UCM turned it back over to the Dragons and Lien scored on a layup to push the lead back to 11.
The Mules would cut the lead to single digits four more times in the contest, but could get no closer.
UCM finished the game 24-of-56 from the field and one more made field goal than the Dragons, but UCM was just 1-of-11 from three-point range. Deck led the way with 16 points off the bench to go along with eight rebounds. TJ White recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also had four assists and a steal. Hughes ended with 13 points, three boards, three assists and three steals.
The Dragons were led by Prescott Williams’ 18 points and 10 rebounds. Bingham finished with 16 points off the bench, while Jordan Riewer had 11 points and six assists.
MSUM was 23-of-52 from the field for 44 percent, but made nine three-pointers. They finished 16-of-21 at the free throw line as well.
The Mules out-scored the Dragons 42-22 in the paint, but MSUM turned 13 UCM turnovers in to 13 points and they held a sizable advantage from beyond the arc.
The Mules finish the season at 25-7 overall. It’s the 24th 20-win season in program history and the 25 wins for head coach Doug Karleskint are the most for a first-year head coach in Central Missouri history.