EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Central Missouri won the NCAA Division II championship game with defense.
Facing a West Liberty squad that averaged 101 points, the Mules held the Hilltoppers 24 below their average Saturday in an 84-77 victory. Daylen Robinson scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half for Central Missouri.
"Defense was the difference at the end," said Robinson, the tournament MVP. "Coach [Kim Anderson] said, `We need stops these 4 minutes,' and that's just what we did. We knew we had to contest their shots, or they would score a bunch of points. We kept our poise late in the game, offensively and defensively."
Robinson hit a 3-pointer with 8:18 left to tie it at 65, then made it 68-65 with another 3-pointer 90 seconds later. The Mules never trailed again.
Central Missouri could not pull away, however.
UCM led 76-73 with less than 3 minutes to go, and that's when defense began to take over. The 6-foot-9 Deck deflected two shots, then stepped up and made a key basket to put his team ahead 78-73 with 1:40 to go. After C.J. Hester cut Central Missouri's lead to 78-75 with a pair of free throws, Deck grabbed an offensive rebound following a missed free throw, was fouled, and hit both free throws to put the Mules up 80-75.
West Liberty came up empty the next two times downcourt, and the Mules held on..
"Every coach dreams of winning a national championship, but that only happened to me because of the players around me," Anderson said. "Their ability to stay focused and not get rattled showed through again. This was a very difficult opponent for us. We knew if West Liberty put up 101 points in this game, we wouldn't win."
West Liberty built a 35-26 lead before the Mules came back to tie it at 37 late in the first half. Neither team led by more than five points in the second half until the final 20 seconds in the game that had 14 ties and nine lead changes.
Shawn Dyer led West Liberty (31-4) with 19 points, and Cedric Harris had 18 - 14 in the first half.
"It's tough getting this far, and going home without a championship," West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. "These guys are hurting right now. In a few days, well, maybe a few years, they'll look back and be very proud of their accomplishments."