MANKATO, Minn. -- Central Missouri built a big lead then held off a late Missouri Southern State charge to beat the Lions 94-84 on Sunday night and advance to Tuesday's Central Regional championship game.
The Mules (26-5) led by as many as 21 points midway through the second half before the Lions (25-6) cut it to five with three and half minutes to play.
The teams traded buckets in the early going with Missouri Southern grabbing a 7-5 lead on a pair of Cameron Cornelius free throws just three minutes into the game. A three from Charles Hammork gave UCM an 8-7 lead and sparked a 12-0 run that Kyle Wolf ended with a 3 at the 12:56 mark to put the Mules in front 17-7.
A Marquis Addison jumper cut the lead to 19-11, but six consecutive points from Dillon Deck gave Central Missouri a 25-11 lead with 9:22 to play in the half. UCM pushed the lead to 15 at 31-16 on a three from Jordan Epps with 7:19 to play in the half, but MSSU responded with a 9-0 run to pull within six.
Four free throws from TJ White pushed the Mules back in front by 10 with 4:31 to play in the half. Daylen Robinson knocked down a pair at the line and Charles Hammork had a fast break dunk to give the Mules a 13-point advantage. The lead got back up to 15 with 90 seconds left in the half, but a three from Austin Wright cut the lead to 12 at the intermission.
A jumper from Deck out halftime pushed the lead to 14, but five quick points by the Lions cut the lead to nine just a minute into the second half. The lead was 10 at 49-39 when UCM went on a 28-7 run to open a 67-46 lead with 10:25 to play in the game.
Missouri Southern didn't back down and began to whittle away at the Mule lead. A layup from Slim Magee and a three from Addison cut the lead to 16 at the 9:12 mark. The Mules got the lead back to 17 at 75-58, but seven consecutive points got the Lions back to within 10 at the 6:05 mark.
White made a pair of foul shots to put UCM back in front by 12, but a jumper from Matt Everson sparked another 7-0 run that pulled MSSU within 77-72 with 4:04 to play in the game.
Deck made a jumper to stem the tide and put UCM back up seven, but Addison calmly knocked down two more free throws to make it five-point game again. Deck hit another jumper and Daylen Robinson had a fast break layup to push the lead back to nine. The Lions got back to within seven at the 1:58 mark, but five points in a row by the Mules pushed the lead back to 12 and all but iced the game. The Mules went 5 of 6 at the free throw line down the stretch to earn the win.
The Mules had five players finish in double figures led by Deck's 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting. White chipped in a season-high 18 points off the bench, while Hammork had 17 and Jordan Epps finished with 14. Robinson had 13 points and six assists.
UCM shot 53 percent from the field, 30 of 57, including 5 of 11 from beyond the arc for 46 percent. The Mules shot 83 percent at the free throw line, 29 of 35. UCM turned had 14 assists to 16 turnovers, but did force 23 MSSU giveaways.
The Lions were led by Addison's game-high 28 points. Jordan Talbert had 16 points and Magee finished with 10. MSSU was 24 of 55 from the field for 44 percent. The Lions were 10 of 23 from 3-point range for 44 percent and 26 of 31 at the foul line for 84 percent.
The Mules held a 36-14 advantage in points in the paint and scored 29 points off the 23 MSSU turnovers. The UCM bench also outscored MSSU's 37-13.
With the win, the Mules advance to the regional title game for the fourth time under Kim Anderson and the first since 2009-10. The Mules will play the winner of the second semifinal between No. 1 seed Minnesota State and No. 5 seed Northwest Missouri on Tuesday night.