Northwest Missouri State somehow found a way Tuesday night at Wachs Arena.
Trailing by 11 points with three minutes left in regulation, the Bearcats clawed their way to a 91-86 overtime win over Northern State in the championship game of the Central Region men’s basketball tournament.
The Wolves appeared to have things well in hand, but ended up losing four starters to fouls and eventually ended up losing the contest.
“This is as tough of a loss as I’ve taken,” said Northern Coach Saul Phillips. “The amount of emotion invested in this season. To foul out four starters and battle to the end. We had our chances.”
Northern built a 12-point lead in the opening half, but led by just one at the break. The Wolves trailed just briefly to start the second half, but rebuilt a double-digit lead. However, along the way the fouls began mounting up. Tommy Chatman fouled out with 6:22 left.
Soon, the Bearcats were driving to the hoop on nearly every possession and kept chipping away at the margin until they eventually got it down to a one-possession game with 1:38 left in regulation. The two teams traded foul shots leaving Northern with a 79-76 lead before Trevor Hudgins (who finished with 29 points) nailed a three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left.
Once the game went into overtime, Northern lost three more starters (Parker Fox, Andrew Kallman and Jordan Belka), but still managed to lead when Kobe Busch hit a three-pointer with 2:05 remaining for an 84-83 edge. However, the Bearcats outscored Northern 8-2 from there on out to secure the improbable victory.
“You probably won’t see a better college basketball game this year,” said NW Missouri coach Ben McCollum. “I can’t say enough about the heart of our kids. They kept battling.”
Northern’s effort was not lost on either head coaching following the game.
“We have champions in our locker room. I felt we were going to figure out a way to do it even with guys that are scout guys playing these guys. I love this group. They work hard. They’re champions,” Phillips said. “And make no mistake about it, that was a really good college basketball game. Those were two unbelievable teams playing each other. At the end of day I just feel sick to my stomach that I wasn’t able to do something more to get it done for them.”
McCollum knew his team had just played against one of the premier squads in the country.
“I thought they were well prepared. They were phenomenal,” he said of the Wolves. “They really hit us in the mouth to start tonight. They put it on us pretty good. Parker Fox is as good of a player as there is in Division II. They’re well coached.”
Fox finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out.
“He played over 12 minutes down the stretch without a foul and still impacted the game,” Phillips said. “That’s pretty terrific for as high volume as he is both offensively and defensively in terms of the amount of plays that he’s in.”
Chatman finished with 15 points and Kallman contributed 14 before exiting the game.
Fox and Chatman were both named to the all-tournament team.
Kallman reflected on what it is like to be a part of the rich NSU basketball history.
“I’ve been a part of a big culture here at Northern, and knowing that we brought this many fans this many wins is just a blessing,” Kallman said. “I’m so proud to be a part of Northern and this culture.”
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