Hazekamp’s game-winner puts Mavericks in ‘Elite’ company

4,519 fans filled up Taylor Center for the NCAA Central Region Championship Tuesday, and what they witnessed was truly “March Madness.”

It was looking grim for the Mavericks with 5.5 seconds left, down one and the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats at the line for a one-and-one with the Championship on the line. As Wes Dreamer released his first shot, it seemed to hang in the air for hours before NCAA Central Region Tournament MVP Kyreese Willingham pulled down the defensive rebound. Head coach Matt Margenthaler decided to trust his players by not calling a timeout, and Malik Willingham pushed the ball up the court and found Elijah Hazekamp for a last-second right elbow shot that was heard all around Mankato.

Hazekamp scored only two points on the night, but they were the most important points scored in the entire game. 

“The whole time I was counting on Malik, Ky(reese) or Justin (Eagins) to take that last shot because that is who we wanted it to be in the hands of,” Hazekamp said. “Right when I shot it it felt really good, which none of the first six or seven shots felt really good so I am glad that one did.”

The shot sent the Taylor Center into a frenzy, with fans and players rushing onto the court to celebrate a 43-42 Central Region Championship win for Minnesota State. MSU’s 43 points scored were the fewest scored in a win in the Margenthaler era.

“In my 23 years (of coaching), I never thought I would see a gym like that. It was such an electric environment,” Margenthaler said.

“I didn’t know how much time was left, so I was just trying to shoot it quick,” Hazekamp said. “I work on shooting it off of a high release, but I haven’t really done it all year. What a moment to have it work.”

Everything that preceded the last-second chaos was based around defense and pace, as the Bearcats controlled most of the game with their physicality and ability to play at their own speed. 

“They sped us up a lot early by just being so physical. Their physicality really got us out of our rhythm,” Margenthaler said. “We just needed to settle in and I thought we did that really well in the second half.”

The Bearcats held the biggest lead of the night at 25-15 with 3:45 to go in the half, but Kyreese Willingham was able to cut it to eight at 25-17 as the teams went into the locker room.

As the final score indicates, scoring was at a premium all game long, but the Mavericks picked it up in the second half. With 10 minutes left in the game, they cut the Bearcat lead to six at 34-28. In the next 6:34, the Mavericks would go on a 10-3 run that put them back in the lead at 38-37. It was their first lead since the opening minutes. 

The next few minutes saw each team score four points each, and when the Mavericks were unable to score on their penultimate possession, they were forced to foul and send the Bearcats to the line. This is where the magic happened. Despite the offensive struggles, defensive lapses at times and how frustrating the pace of the Bearcats was, the Mavericks ultimately came out of their home tournament as champions.

“We knew we were going to have to be disciplined for 40 (minutes), and the boys showed it tonight. We locked down on defense, and then the offense was there,” Kyreese Willingham said. “It was an amazing environment out there tonight.”

Kyreese Willingham led the team in scoring with 14 points and was named Tournament MVP. Malik Willingham and Hazekamp joined him on the NCAA Central Region All-Tournament Team that also featured Bennett Stiritz and Daniel Abreu of NWMSU.

“We’re a veteran team. Each and every one of us has been in situations like this before,” Kyreese Willingham said. “We’re so close as a team that we were able to stay composed with each other when times got tough. ‘Be confident and head up,’ that’s what we say.”

Tuesday’s crowd was the sixth largest in DII men’s basketball this year and the second largest crowd ever at the Taylor Center. 

The Mavericks are now a part of the NCAA Elite Eight for the second time in program history, with the only other time coming back in 2011. The Mavericks earned the no. 1 seed, and will take on no. 8 Ferris State Tuesday, March 26 at 6 p.m. at Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.
Hazekamp’s heave made national news, including SportsCenter’s top play of the night on ESPN. It has since been uploaded to the Minnesota State Mavericks YouTube and can be viewed here:

Header Photo: It came down to the final seconds in Taylor Center Tuesday evening, but a last-second shot by Eljiah Hazekamp gave #2 Minnesota State the 43-42 win. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

Write to Hayden Lee at

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