Tahlequah Daily Press

College Sports

March 8, 2014

NSU upsets top-seeded Mules in MIAA tournament quarterfinals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bryton Hobbs couldn’t get any shots to fall in the first half. He logged only two points in the first 20 minutes and headed to the locker room looking for a new strategy.

“When I went in at halftime, I told myself that I’m going to start looking for my shot. In the first half all I was doing was trying to penetrate or post up. I was taking too many tough shots,” he said. “The second half I was looking to catch in rhythm and knock the shot down. Whatever the defense gave me, I was going to take it. They started falling, and I got my confidence up.”

He’s right. Everything was falling for him in the second half.

Hobbs tallied 29 of his game-high 31 points in the second half and buried six of his 13 shots — six of nine from beyond the arc — to lead Northeastern State to an 84-82 upset of Central Missouri in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association tournament on Friday afternoon.

The RiverHawks, seeded ninth in the league tournament, improved to 16-12 and will take on the winner of the Central Oklahoma-Fort Hays State quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Saturday in Kansas City, Mo. No. 1 seed Central Missouri, ranked 15th in the country, fell to 24-5 and will have to wait until Sunday night to see if it made the NCAA tournament field.

There’s little doubt that the RiverHawks have to win the MIAA tournament to make the NCAA tournament. And they’re now two games from doing that inside Municipal Auditorium.

“I’m really proud of our kids today. I’m proud of our kids over the last couple of games,” said NSU coach Larry Gipson, who announced that he’ll retire at the end of the current season. “I’m proud of where we are, but we’d like to keep playing more basketball. Every game I get to coach now is a real bonus for me. I’d like to keep it going.”

Hobbs and Co. made sure that it would keep going at least through Saturday.

After clinging to a 29-25 halftime lead, the RiverHawks scorched the nets in the second half and eventually built up to a 15-point lead with 8:06 left. NSU shot 44 percent (22 of 50) from the field in the game, but the real damage came in the second half when the RiverHawks were 51.9 percent (14 of 27) from the field and eight-of-13 (61.5 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.

NSU was also 28 of 33 (84.8 percent) from the free-throw line. Central Missouri, on the other hand, was only 18 of 30 (60 percent) from the charity stripe.

Helping lead the charge for NSU was Landon DeMasters with 16 points and Michael Harmon with 11 points — nine of which came in the first half when other NSU players were struggling to get shots to fall.

Jeremy McDonald (eight points, seven rebounds) and Amir Gilliam (nine points, five rebounds) came off the bench to provide a spark for the RiverHawks, who are now 2-0 against Central Missouri — who won the league’s regular-season crown — this year.

“Last night we talked to our team about the fact that everybody needed to be ready to play,” Gipson told the Joplin Glove following the game. “In every NCAA Tournament, in every conference tournament there is somebody who comes off the bench and steps up who is least expected. I thought today we got good play out of Amir Gilliam and Keon Littleton, neither one of whom played in the last game because we went with a real short rotation.

“As long as we have guys who are willing to step up and keep battling, that gives us a chance.”

Littleton played 14 minutes and was scoreless with four rebounds.

Dillon Deck — a First Team selection by the league this season — Preston Brunz and Daylen Robinson all finished with 17 points for the Mules. Charles Hammork was the only other Central Missouri player in double figures with 10 points.

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