(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) Northwest knew they were a far reach on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. To reach a second-straight dance, the Bearcats would have to take care of Central Missouri in Sunday's MIAA Tournament Championship.
Bryston Williams, filling in for an injured DeAngelo Hailey, pushed the game to overtime with a last-second layup, but the Bearcats' magic ran out as they fell 79-76 to the second-seeded Mules.
Northwest (21-10) was passed over for an at-large bid as well. Northeastern State, who fell to the Bearcats in the tournament quarterfinals, is the conference's lone at-large selection.
Hailey suffered an ankle injury in Saturday's semifinal win over Fort Hays, giving Northwest eight bodies to work with Sunday. Williams shined while stepping into the starting spot, finishing with a game-high 27 points and 9 rebounds. He shot 8-of-14 from the field and was perfect beyond the arc and at the free throw line.
The Bearcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead while needing a big effort from the bigs in place of a depleted core of guards. Dillon Starzl, Grant Cozad and Kyle Schlake combined for 33 points.
The two squads traded shot throughout the first half and went into the break tied 33-33. A cold second-half stretch for the Bearcats then allowed Central Missouri (22-7) to grab and eight-point lead with under four minutes to go.
Northwest clawed back to cut the deficit back to two, where Williams missed on his first potential game-tying attempt with 10 seconds left. Starzl fouled Dominique Long, who missed the front end of a one-and-one. Williams took the rebound the length of the court and redeemed his previous miss to send the game to overtime knotted at 66-66.
No lead was more than a possession in the extra frame. The first went to Northwest when a pair of Williams free throws put them up 70-67.
A six-point swing then gave that three-point advantage to the Mules. Matt Wallace was then able to draw a foul beyond the arc to earn three attempts at the line with four ticks left. After splitting the first two, the final miss went into the arms of Zach Bush.
He split the pair, allowing Cozad to have one last half-court heave, which was stuffed at the mid-court line.