SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Marcus Hill put on a show in Minnesota State-Mankato’s opening game of the NCAA Division II Elite Eight Wednesday afternoon.
Of course, you expect that from a senior who knows there are no guaranteed days left in his basketball career. Hill certainly played as if there was no tomorrow, dazzling the crowd here at the MassMutual Center with a 26-point performance as the Mavericks survived an overtime thriller against Alabama-Huntsville, winning 95-91 in a national quarterfinal.
Hill will tell you he didn’t expect to come out and light up the scoreboard for Mankato (28-4), but what the veteran guard did know is that he had to take his game to another level if the Mavericks were going to earn a win against the No. 7 Chargers (29-5).
“I knew I had to bring something extra today. It’s the Elite Eight. This is what you play basketball for,” Hill said. “I just had to play my game, take shots, get my teammates in a good position to make plays and play with a lot of energy. I knew it would lead to other guys stepping up, and it did.”
Hill could have ended this game in regulation. He had the ball in his hands with 25 seconds to play but was forced to take a tough shot as the Chargers defended him tightly during the play. His 3-point attempt bounced off the rim and the Mavericks and Chargers ended regulation tied at 84-84.
“I should have called a timeout on the play,” Mankato head coach Matt Margenthaler said. “We seemed a little disoriented and had to take a tough shot. But I give our guys credit for continuing to fight. We were able to make some plays in overtime and get a win.”
Despite not hitting a potential game-winning 3-pointer, Hill finished the game off, hitting two free throws in the final seconds of OT to secure the four-point win. His shots came just moments after Tyler Hanback had his 3-point shot partially blocked by Jefferson Mason.
He finished his day going 10-of-20 from the field and he connected on four of the nine treys he attempted as he catapulted the Mavericks into the Final Four for the first time in school history.
His teammates played a pivotal role in the success as well. Mason poured in 19 points and Cameron Hodges scored 18. Stephen Kirschbaum scored 13 points. His biggest shot of the night was a 3-pointer from up top that gave the Mavericks the lead for good at 92-89.
The Mavericks shot 50.8 percent from the field and nailed 12 treys as they continued their march toward a championship.
“We had a lot of guys step up, and that is the way it has been all season,” Margenthaler said. “We have different guys that step up on a given night, and tonight Steve gave us a great effort.”
As for Hill, well, he had no problem being the guy to lead the way. In fact, he noted that his leadership is what has really improved throughout the year.
“Just being a leader. That is what I’ve really worked on the most,” Hill said. “Guys are listening to me more and trusting in me. It comes with time.”
Huntsville looked like it was going to run away with this game. The Chargers hit their first eight shots of the game, including five from beyond the arc, and owned a 20-10 lead five minutes into the game.
The Chargers ended up trailing 51-49 at halftime but still shot 55.8 percent in the game. Jamie Smith, who is only a sophomore, turned heads with a 30-point effort. Hanback scored 14 points, Xavier Baldwin clicked for 13 and Zane Campbell added 12.
“We played hard today and I am proud of my team for the effort they gave,” Huntsville head coach Lennie Acuff said. “It hurts to come up short because we have been working so hard since October, but I am happy with what we accomplished this season.”
For the Mavericks, the dream lives on.
“It feels good to be moving on,” Hill said. “We’ve been telling ourselves all week that if we can play our game and stick around until Saturday, we’ll have a chance to win a title.”