RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – The No. 21-ranked Northeastern State men’s basketball team went on a 9-0 run in the final 24 seconds to come from behind and defeat Harding 66-64 Saturday afternoon at Tucker Coliseum.
Senior forward Marcus Sheppard completed the comeback with a buzzer-beating heave from well behind the three-point line with two defenders in his face after Harding missed back-to-back free throws with seven seconds remaining.
The RiverHawks (5-2) narrowly avoided a three-game losing streak, and the Bisons (3-4) lost to NSU for the second time this season. HU was coming off an upset victory a day ago over No. 6 Midwestern State.
Northeastern State found itself trailing 57-47 with 2:56 to play after Harding went on a 10-0 run that started at the 8:53 mark.
Sheppard connected on a three-point basket with 2:36 remaining to end the long drought, and junior guard Dalen Qualls hit a three at 1:50 to move the RiverHawks to within four.
Three free throws from the Bisons pushed their lead back out to seven, and the two teams went back and forth until the 27-second mark, when two Weston Jameson free throws gave HU a 64-57 advantage.
Senior guard Bryton Hobbs made two freebies on NSU’s next possession, and the green and white regained possession after HU’s Jacob Gibson missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. Hobbs was fouled again and made two more free throws as the RiverHawks made the score 64-61 with 13 seconds to play.
A Gibson turnover and two more free throws by Hobbs put NSU down by just one with nine seconds to play, and Hayden Johnson’s two missed free throws on Harding’s next possession set up the final play.
Junior forward Curtis Evans collected the rebound and paused for a second looking for Hobbs. He was being double teamed, so Evans sent the outlet pass to Sheppard at midcourt. Without hesitation, he dribbled twice and sent a shot towards the rim from long range with two defenders barreling down on him. The ball hit nothing but net and sent the RiverHawks into a game-winning celebration.
Northeastern State picked up a much-needed victory after suffering back-to-back losses, and NSU will now enter MIAA action on a high note.
Hobbs finished two assists shy of a triple-double, as he registered 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight dimes. He was 7-for-15 from the field and 12-for-13 at the line. Sheppard added career highs in both points (22) and rebounds (9). He was 9-of-13 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point land. No other member of the team had more than six points.
Will Francis came off the bench to lead the Bisons with 18 points. Jameson added 10.
This is the second-straight holiday tournament finale that NSU has won on a game-winning shot. Hobbs hit a runner with 3.2 seconds left to list his team to a 72-71 win over Truman State at the QU Holiday Tournament in Quincy, Ill., last season.
Northeastern State will now begin conference play with a matchup at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 against Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. This will mark the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association opener for both teams.