SPRINGFIELD, MASS. - The Minnesota State Mankato men's basketball team advanced to the first Final Four in program history with a 95-91 overtime victory over Alabama-Huntsville on Wednesday at the MassMutual Center.
The Mavericks (28-4) will play Bellarmine (31-2) on Thursday for a berth in Saturday's championship game. This marks the second year in a row and the fifth time in the past six years that the NSIC will send a team to the national semifinals.
Wednesday's game was an offensive affair, but a defensive play was crucial to the outcome. With Minnesota State leading 93-91, Jefferson Mason blocked a three-point attempt by Alabama-Huntsville's Tyler Hanback with 7 seconds left in overtime.
Marcus Hill hauled in the rebound, was fouled and converted both free throws to seal it.
"It really felt good leaving my hand," Hanback said. "I felt like if he hadn't gotten a hand on it, it was going in."
Minnesota State overcame a torrid start byHuntsville (29-5). The Chargers made their first nine shots -- the first four of which were three-pointers -- and led 27-13 with 13:30 to play in the first half. By halftime, though, Minnesota State led 51-49. The Mavericks shot just under 60 percent (59.4) for the first 20 minutes and the Chargers just over (60.9).
Alabama-Huntsville wasn't done in the second half and led 83-79 with 2:36 remaining.
But Mason's two free throws and a putback by Cameron Hodges tied the score at 83. It was 84-84 at the end of regulation.
Each team led in overtime and the last tie was at 89-all. That's when Stephen Kirschbaum drilled a three-pointer with 1:40 remaining that put Mankato ahead to stay.
"I thought we were resilient tonight," Mavericks coach Matt Margenthaler said. "Our guys fought through some diversity and made plays when they had to."
Hill, who played all 45 minutes, led the Mavericks with 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting and also had six assists. Mason had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Hodges had 18 points and six rebounds, including four on the offensive end.
Alabama-Huntsville's Jaime Smith led all scorers with 30 points. He was 9-for-12 from the field, including 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.
The game had 12 ties and 13 lead changes.