ST. LOUIS -- Continuing to show the grit and determination common among successful tournament teams, North Central (Ill.) made a series of clutch plays and fought off a second-half comeback attempt in knocking off Washington-St. Louis 72-68 in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament on the Bears' home court Saturday evening.

The Cardinals (22-7) have won multiple tournament games for the first time in the program's history, and have also tied the school record for single-season wins. No. 23 North Central also improved to 6-1 against nationally-ranked opponents this season with the victory against the 19th-ranked Bears.

"It was a great game," said North Central head coach Todd Raridon. "I thought both teams played hard and played great defense. This team just continues to persevere. They've got a lot of character, they continue to play great basketball and they're playing it as a team."

Though the game was close throughout, the Cardinals remained in front most of the way. North Central put together a 7-0 run, with five points coming from Kevin Gillespie, to take its first lead at 12-8. Owning a 19-17 edge later in the period, the Cardinals got inside baskets from Landon Gamble and Aaron Tiknis and a three-pointer from Gillespie to extend the lead to its largest at 26-17 with 6:08 before halftime.

Washington (20-7) narrowed the gap to 32-28 with 1:40 left, but another three-pointer from Gillespie and a free throw from Derek Raridon left North Central with an eight-point advantage at the break.

The Cardinals had difficulty getting their offense going in the second half, as two three-pointers by Tiknis stood as their only offense for the first nine minutes of the period. The Bears' Ben Hoener capped off an 11-0 run by the hosts by knocking down a three-pointer which gave Washington a 44-42 lead with 10:39 to go.

The next five minutes saw four ties and four lead changes. After Hoener sank another triple to put the Bears ahead, 54-52, Gillespie responded with a three of his own, and Gamble added two free throws to nudge the Cardinals in front, 57-54.

North Central owned a 66-60 advantage with 1:30 to play, but Hoener kept the Bears in the game by drilling another three-pointer. Gamble missed inside with 32 seconds left, but Tiknis grabbed the offensive rebound and forcing Washington to foul in order to extend the game. Gillespie drew the contact and made both free throws, but the Bears sprinted down the floor and got a layup from Chris Klimek to make it a one-possession contest once again.

Raridon sank two more free throws before Washington's Dylan Richter dialed up a three-pointer with eight seconds left, shaving the Cardinals' lead down to 70-68. Gillespie was fouled once again and converted both attempts, sealing the win and tying his career high with 22 points.

"We're a very disciplined and experienced team," said Gillespie. "We knew they were going to make a run; they're a really good team. We just had to come back and keep playing our game, instead of taking shots we don't normally take, and it worked out for us."

Gillespie was one of four Cardinals to finish in double figures, as Raridon put up 15 points and Tiknis and Gamble each had 12. Gamble, who played 13 second-half minutes with four fouls, also grabbed 10 rebounds to post his first double-double of the season.

The Cardinals will face WIttenberg in the next round of play, with the winner to face the winner of the other game in the sectional between Wooster and Illinois Wesleyan. The host for next weekend's sectional games will be announced on Sunday.