SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- In a battle of two Goliaths it was the last overtime punches that made the difference as Central Region champion Minnesota State (28-4) outlasted Alabama-Huntsville (29-5) 95-91in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Elite Eight at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.
"This was a great basketball game and both teams played extremely hard," noted UAH head coach Lennie Acuff. "Both teams were awfully good offensively. It just came down to one play and they made one more than we did."
A pair of last minute plays led to the win for the Mavericks in the first-ever meeting between UAH and MSU. With MSU leading 92-91 and possession, junior guard Josh Magette (Birmingham) and sophomore guard Jaime Smith (Birmingham) applied a perfect trap and Magette got a clean steal with Smith streaking for the basket unimpeded but Magette's outlet pass went long and Smith could not corral the heave before stepping on the baseline. The turnover gave the Mavericks the ball back with the lead and MSU's Joe Drapcho hit one of two free throws to put give Minnesota State a two-point, 93-91 cushion.
Down by two and with the ball, UAH inbounded the ball with 17 seconds remaining and ran through the set offense to find senior guard Tyler Hanback (Meridianville) with an open look from beyond the arch. Minnesota's State's Jefferson Mason came flying from just outside the paint however, and got a fingernail on Hanback's attempt and ended the Chargers' season.
"It really felt good leaving my hand," noted Hanback. "I felt like if he hadn't gotten a hand on it it was going in."
The game was a back-and-forth affair with 13 lead changes in the thriller including four in the extra stanza. UAH came out of the gate in the game blazing hitting the first eight shots from the field and scoring on the first 11 possessions. The scorching shooting helped the Chargers build a 14-point lead in the opening half but the Mavericks would catch fire as well and would climb right back in the contest to take a 51-49 lead at half. Smith was a key part in the Chargers blistering start as the guard posted 19 points in the first 20 minutes of action.
The hot shooting held for both clubs throughout the contest as UAH went 29-of-52 from the floor for 55.8%, while Minnesota State shot 50.8% on 33-of-65 shooting. The Mavericks held a decided 38-25 advantage on the boards including 16 offensive grabs that led to 17 second-chance points for MSU.
"I'm so proud of my team and what they've accomplished this year," noted Acuff. "They are really remarkable young men. They represented our school and our city with class and dignity the whole way".
Smith led all scorers in the contest with a season high 30 points. Hanback finished the night in double figures with 14, sophomore guard Xavier Baldwin (Adamsville) tossed in 13 while sophomore forward Zane Campbell (West Limestone) added a dozen.
The loss ends a magical run for the Chargers that includes the first Elite Eight appearance, the first South Region Championship, the most Division II wins in school history and the first top-5 ranking ever. UAH bids farewell to seniors Elliott Jones (Tuscaloosa), Josh Yost (Guntersville) and Hanback.
"Our seniors gave us unbelievable leadership throughout," noted Acuff. "It's just heartbreaking but I'm not disappointed in them, I'm disappointed for them.
The team will depart Massachusetts on Thursday afternoon and is schedule to arrive at Huntsville International Airport at 8:30 p.m.