EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- They drew the play up in the seventh grade.
Central Missouri’s Daylen Robinson and TJ White have played together since they were kids growing up in the Kansas City area. They were on the same AAU team playing in summer tournaments. They played on the same junior college team at Moberly Community College in Missouri.
So when Central Missouri and top-ranked Metro State of Colorado were tied in the final seconds of their Division II semifinal-round game Thursday night, the two used a play they’ve run hundreds of times to send the Mules to their first national title game since 1984.
Robinson, who was dribbling quickly toward the basket, saw White out of the corner of his eye. When two Metro State defenders chased after Robinson, he passed the ball to White for a lay-in basket. One second left. Central Missouri, 71-69.
“This is really nothing new,” White said. “We’ve been doing this since we were little kids.”The Mules survived a last-second shot by Metro State’s Mitch McCarron, which bounced off the rim as the game-ending buzzer sounded. The celebration began for the Mules, and especially Robinson and White, who both transferred to Central Missouri for the 2013-14 season.
The two joined in Central‘s celebration and the conversation simply went like this between Robinson and White: “We’ve been doing this a long time.”
Robinson, who was a guard for DI Texas Tech at this time last year, grew up in Raytown, an southeastern suburb of Kansas City, Mo. White grew up in Kansas City and played at Northeast High School.
They never played against each other in high school. They’ve only played with each other on the same team.
“This is unreal. We would have never thought in the seventh grade that we’d be playing for a DII national championship and it’d be us two making the play,” White said. “We never would have thought about it.”
Central Missouri won the national championship in 1984, before either player was born. Saturday’s game against West Liberty will also be a first for head coach Kim Anderson, who hasn’t been in a title game as a coach or as a player when he was at the University of Missouri.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Anderson said. “I really don’t have words. You always hope that you’d play for a national championship. I never dreamt we’d be playing for a national championship.”
When the Mules are on the road, including this week in Evansville, Robinson and White room together. And certainly there was a lot of talking Thursday night back at the hotel.
“We’re going to stay at the hotel and crack jokes, probably,” Robinson said. “That’s what we do a lot. We’re going to keep talking about this moment. It’s a very big moment on a very big stage.”
One year ago, Robinson was a junior guard at Texas Tech. He played in 29 games and averaged 3.1 points and 1.8 assists per game. He chose to leave Tech after yet another coaching change last April: Tubby Smith is now head coach at Tech, replacing interim head coach Chris Walker, who had replaced head coach Billy Gillespie after just one season.
White had intended to transfer to UMKC in Kansas City after finishing up at Moberly Community College, but instead went to Central Missouri.
In the midst of all the unknown last summer, White called Robinson and Robinson called White. They talked.
“We going to do this again?” White said.
They both became major pieces in the rebuilding of Central Missouri’s team this season, which lost 10 players from its 2012-13 season team which won 22 games and was MIAA co-champion. Robinson has started 33 of 34 games and averages 12.4 points a game. White hasn’t started a game, but has played in all 34.
There hasn’t been a second of regret, especially now that the Mules (29-5) will play West Liberty for the national championship Saturday afternoon on national TV (CBS).
“I think I chose the right school. I know I chose the right school,” Robinson said. “Playing for the national championship. Any player would like winning, any player would like this position. We’re winning and I’m happy.”