This is a USI-centric blog, but teams that USI plays are almost as important. And Drury, which came within a minute of losing to USI in the GLVC Tournament’s championship game, is important — very important now that the Panthers won the NCAA Division II national title on Sunday, beating Metro State 74-73 after trailing by as many as 17 points.
In a game like this the stars of the team must play well, and Drury’s did. Alex Hall scored 21 points, was 4-for-7 from 3-point range and sank the two free throws at the end that won the game for the Panthers. Brandon Lockhart scored 14 points and passed out nine assists (and committed eight turnovers). Meanwhile, two other players scored in double figures: Ian Carter (10) and Drake Patterson (12), who was 4-for-6 from 3-point land. The Panthers were outrebounded by Metro State, 33-27, and were dominated on the offensive boards, 16-8. But Drury shot 54.2 percent (26-for-48) for the game while Metro State shot just 46 percent (29-for-63).
Another major factor in winning a title is bench scoring. Drury got 12 points from Cameron Adams (seven) and Lonnie Boga (five, including a big 3-pointer) who, with Kameron Bundy, played a total of 50 minutes (with Adams piling up 32 of those minutes). Metro State got zero points from three different players off the bench, and they only took two shots while playing just 15 minutes.
But the most amazing stat sheet to look at is the second-half play-by-play.
At 17:52, a Hall turnover led to a Jonathon Morse dunk to give Metro State a 43-30 lead. Then Patterson buries a 3-pointer, Hall steals the ball, hits a 3-pointer, is fouled on the shot and hits the subsequent free throw. Just like that, Drury’s only down 43-37. The Panthers finally tie the score at 53-53 on Boga’s 3-pointer at 13:29.
Metro State re-builds a four-point lead, but Drury rallies again, with Hall sinking a 3-pointer at 9:31 to put his team ahead, 59-58. But Metro State goes back up by five less than a minute later. Drury keeps getting close, but can’t move back in front, and Metro State’s up by six, 71-65, with 4:35 to go.
Less than two minutes later, an Adams layup pulls Drury with 73-71. The rest of the way — the final 2:47 — Drury puts on a defensive clinic. It forces Metro State into missing two shots and turning the ball over twice while it also missed two free throws. Meanwhile, Drury’s Adam hits the second of a two-shot foul to get his team within 73-72 with 26 seconds left/. Three seconds later, Hall is fouled and hits both free throws to put Drury on top 74-73. After a 30-second timeout, Metro State can’t get a shot off for the next 19 seconds until Mitch McCarron misses a jumper with 4 seconds showing and teammate Nicholas Kay fails to tap in the rebound. Time then runs out.
In one way this game was similar to the game USI played against Drury at the Ford Center. The Eagles finally grabbed the lead late and had possession but faced a Drury press. Keith DeWitt tossed a long pass over the press down the court to Kenyon Smith, but led Smith too much and the ball went out of bounds. On Drury’s next possession, Hall hit a 3-pointer that put the Panthers in front for good.
This isn’t to rub salt in USI’s wounds, but to show that Drury was a resilient team throughout the postseason. The Eagles didn’t suffer disappointment alone. They ended up being one of nine teams in the postseason to undergo this treatment — and one of 23 teams IN A ROW that Drury defeated since Jan. 10. The Panthers got the basket or free throws or stop they needed when they needed it, every time. Doing that inevitably leads to championships.