Men’s basketball dance to NCAA Central Region Finals

In a (not-so) shocking turn of events, the no. 1 seeded Mavericks have played their way into the NCAA Central Region Finals. 

In comparison to the Division I NCAA Tournament, this would be the Sweet 16. The Mavericks have made it this far by winning their first- and second-round matchups against Arkansas Tech and Minnesota State University Moorhead, respectively. 

In the first round matchup against the Wonder Boys, the Mavs put on an offensive show, with four players scoring 15 or more points en route to a 75-68 victory over Arkansas Tech. 

The first half got off to a slow start, as the teams only mustered six points each through the first five minutes. The Wonder Boys held a five point-lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half after an 11-6 run by ATU, but the Mavericks wouldn’t go away. The next eight minutes saw them put together a 20-12 run to take back the lead, 32-29, with just under two to play. The final minutes of the first half saw the lead change hands four times before the Mavs went up 36-35 heading into the locker room.

The Mavs came out of the locker room firing from beyond the arc, and they were able to secure their first double-digit lead of the night with just over 12 minutes to play in the second half. But this time, the Wonder Boys would not quit, and they fought until the final buzzer to knock the top dogs off of their throne. As the time expired, the Mavericks claimed victory and would move on to play a familiar foe, the MSU Moorhead Dragons. 

The rematch that all of the NSIC wanted came the very next day, and the Dragons had hopes of tearing down the team that defeated them twice in the regular season. Unfortunately, they will have to wait until next year to get revenge on the Mavericks because they looked flat in their 97-77 loss to the conference’s best team. 

The first half was close, as the teams were knotted at 15 with just under 11 minutes to go in the first half, but a late first half surge led by D2CCA Central Region Player of the Year Malik Willingham gave the Mavs a 39-28 lead going into the locker room. Malik Willingham led all scorers with 20 points at halftime. 

The Mavs kept their momentum coming out of the locker room, going on an 11-4 run in the first five minutes of the second half and building a lead that would be impossible to blow as they led by 18 points with 15 minutes left in the game. The Dragons cut it to 13, but a 9-0 run slammed the door on any comeback attempts as the Mavs led by 22 with under seven minutes remaining, 61-39. The Mavs went into cruise control mode for the rest of the night, leading to a 78-55 semifinal win. 

Thirty points from Malik and 22 points and 10 rebounds from Kyreese Willingham led the way for the Mavs, while the Dragons shot 31.9% in the loss. This win gave the Mavericks their 31st victory of the season, a new program record.

Following their win in Round 2 of the NCAA Central Region Tournament, the Mavericks will play the No. 4 seeded Northwest Missouri State Bearcats in what will likely be their final game in Taylor Center this season. Tuesday marks the seventh all-time meeting between the two teams, where the Bearcats hold a 4-2 series advantage over the Mavs. 

This season, the Bearcats own a 29-4 record, including a 20-2 record in their conference, the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association, and have won 18 straight games. The Bearcats also have hit major benchmarks as a team this season, shooting above 50% from the field and 40% from three. They average 73.9 points, 29.9 rebounds and 13.5 assists per game. 

Individually, Wes Dreamer leads the team in points per game with 18.1, while adding 6.4 rebounds. Daniel Abreu (10.4 ppg), Mitch Mascari (10.2) and Bennett Stiritz (15.3) also average double-digit points. Another impressive stat from this Bearcat team is their coach, Ben McCollum, who is in his 15th season with the team, has not yet cracked the triple-digit loss mark, with a 394-90 record as head coach.

Tuesday’s winner-take-all game begins at 7 p.m. in Bresnan Arena. 

Header Photo: This will be MSU’s fifth trip to the NCAA “Sweet 16” under head coach Matt Margenthaler. MSU owns a 20-15 record in NCAA Tournament action, including wins against Arkansas Tech (75-68) and MSU Moorhead (78-55) in the first two rounds this season. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

Write to Hayden Lee at

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