MARYVVILLE, Mo. — The matchup in the Central Region semifinals was as tantalizing as a round of 32 game can get for the NCAA Division II Tournament.
No. 1 ranked Northwest Missouri State was taking on defending champion Augustana in a rematch of last year’s Central Region championship game. Augustana won that game by two points in its hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Northwest Missouri got its revenge with a 74-53 victory Sunday evening at Bearcat Arena. It has been a friendly regional rivalry between two teams that have faced each other the last three seasons in the postseason tournament.
“This has been an awesome rivalry,” said Augustana senior Adam Beyer, who scored 12 points. “I have had a great time. They have been outstanding games every time we played. They are a really good team. It will be nice to see the rivalry continue because I know they are going to be good and we are going to be good.”
In the last two years, they have faced each other four times with each team winning twice.
BRACKET: DII men's basketball tournament
“It is a great rivalry,” said Northwest senior Zach Schneider, who finished with 15 points. “That is what you get in Division II with regions. “We have played them in three straight years and obviously, we have had some great battles with them. Tonight, we played really well.”
The victory puts the Bearcats in the Central Region championship game for the fourth straight season. The previous three years Northwest lost.
Now Northwest, 31-1, will be looking to break that streak when it takes on Southwest Minnesota State, 28-5, 7 p.m. CT Tuesday at Bearcat Arena.
“We are just looking at it as another home game,” Schneider said. “We will get a good scout on Southwest and get a good practice in tomorrow.”
Northwest coach Ben McCollum reiterated the point of treating Tuesday’s game like a midseason contest.
“We got class tomorrow?” McCollum asked as he looked at a couple of Northwest players. “We have class so we will go to class tomorrow and then have a home game on Tuesday. Obviously, it is not just another game. I think a relaxed mentality helped us quite a bit tonight. If we can stay relaxed and calm, I think we will be okay.”
The Bearcats started the second half against Augustana with a 13-point lead and quickly expanded it to 45-27 on a 3-pointer by Schneider followed by two free throws from junior Chris-Ebou Ndow.
Augustana junior Jordan Spencer, who made the game-winning free throws in last year’s Central Region championship game, hit a 3-pointer and then a two-point field goal to make it 45-32.
The Vikings, though, never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way. Every time they made a little run, somebody for Northwest stepped up with a basket. With 12:50 left, it was freshman Ryan Welty who knocked down a 3-pointer to give Northwest a 52-35 lead.
Northwest’s lead grew to 58-37 on a basket by senior D’Vante Mosby. Augustana made one more push, closing to 62-39 with just over 4 minutes left. But an NBA-range 3-pointer by Justin Pitts with 3:58 left made it 65-39, and all but dashed any hopes of the Vikings repeating as national champions.
“We played a team tonight that if they play like that, they can win a national championship,” Augustana coach Tom Billeter said. “They were really ready to play. I thought we competed.
“We only lost two games by double figures this year and they were both to them.”
Northwest showed how in sync it was on the final play in the first half. With the clock running down to 5 seconds, Pitts drove, passed it to forward Brett Dougherty who then kicked it back outside to Welty. Welty nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push Northwest’s lead to 40-27.
“It was great,” Ndow said of the ball movement in the first half. “The first game we had some problems offensively to get in the flow. This game we came out with the mindset to get the ball moving and get everybody involved and we did a good job of it.”
Augustana started the game with a 3-pointer from Spencer. It would be the only lead of the half for the Vikings.
Northwest scored the next six points for a 6-3 lead. The Vikings tied the game 6-6 on a 3-pointer by senior Mike Busack. It was the only tie in the first half.
The Bearcats went on a 16-2 run for a 22-8 lead. Most of the points came on baskets in the paint that were set up from multiple passes.
Busack kept the Vikings close, especially when he hit a long 3-pointer that closed the gap to 29-22. Northwest scored the next four points and maintained a double-digit lead for all but one possession to close out the half.
Northwest shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and had 10 assists on its 17 field goals. The Bearcats also held Augustana to 39 percent shooting from the field.
“It is always fun to play Augustana,” McCollum said. “We have built somewhat of a rivalry with them. They are extremely well coached. They have a lot of good players, a lot of winners out there. They competed.
“I thought defensively, our kids were really locked in for the whole game.”