By CEDRIQUE FLEMMING
MANKATO, Minn. — The book was shut on the 2012-2013 season for the Northeastern State men’s basketball team Saturday afternoon inside the Taylor Center in Mankato, Minn.
The RiverHawks, who earned the No. 7 seed in the central regional, fell 70-57 to No. 2 seed Winona State University in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Division II Championship.
NSU (19-9) gave a valiant effort, but in the end, the green and white was simply outmatched and overpowered by the Warriors (25-7).
“I’m comfortable with the fact that our team did about all they could do,” NSU coach Larry Gipson said. “Realistically, Winona State is a better basketball team. I think we had our opportunity, but we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Northeastern State fell behind 8-0 to start the contest, and the team played catch-up for the remainder of the opening half. Two Xavier Humphrey free throws with three seconds to go gave the Warriors a 36-27 halftime lead.
The RiverHawks came out of the locker room on fire, using a 10-2 run to trail just 38-37. They had eight opportunities over the course of the next seven minutes to take the lead, which included a missed dunk from senior forward Jermaine Bransford and a missed 3-point attempt from senior guard Ethan Anderson, but they could never quite get over the hump.
A vicious transition slam from Bransford at 12:06 tied the score at 46-46, but costly turnovers and missed shots would come back to haunt NSU. Taylor Cameron swished a trey at 10:49 and Clayton Vette took advantage of a missed box out for a put-back at 8:54, and Northeastern State would soon find itself trailing by double figures.
The team went into panic mode and couldn’t quite find a way back into the game.
“We came out in the second half and played competitively for the first 10 minutes,” Gipson said. “We had a turnover that led to a three, and from that point on we were on our heels. We made too many mistakes to win a game of this magnitude against a team like Winona State.”
Bransford ended his career with his 14th double double of the season, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Bryton Hobbs led the RiverHawks with 17 points, while Anderson added 11.
Vette paced Winona State with 18 points, Humphrey dropped 15 and Grant Johnson contributed 13. The Warriors outrebounded NSU 41-30, and they made six more shots from the field.
NSU was projected to finish 14th in its first season in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association after finishing 5-21 last year, but the team defied all odds and tied for third with a 12-6 league record.
Central Regional scoreboard
Game 1: Augustana 79, Upper Iowa 65
Game 2: Winona State 70, Northeastern State 57
Game 3: Minnesota State 81, Arkansas Tech 65
Game 4: Harding 75, Central Missouri 71
Game 5: Winona State vs. Augustana, 5 p.m.
Game 6: Minnesota State vs. Harding, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7: Regional title game, 7 p.m.