Buffs fall short of national title quest


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West Texas A&M’s Qua Grant goes up for shot over a Northwest Missouri State defender during the NCAA Division II national championship game at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. on Saturday. [Trevor Fleeman/ For Press Pass Sports]

West Texas A&M head men’s basketball coach Tom Brown didn’t mince words Saturday after his team played in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Division II National Championship game.

“That team could easily be playing in the Division I Sweet 16,” Brown said.

That team was Northwest Missouri State.

That team proved to be a Division II buzzsaw halting WT’s bid to bring Canyon its first men’s national basketball championship.

NW Missouri State (28-2), winner of 97 of its last 100 games, used a definitive height advantage, ball movement and overall talent to dismantle WT 80-54 claiming the 2021 NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship Saturday at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.

This was NW Missouri’s third national championship in the last four years the DII Tournament has been played. All three titles – 2017, 2019 and 2021 – under 12-year coach Ben McCollum who added icing to Saturday title by securing his 300th career win.

West Texas A&M seventh year coach Brown, his No. 1 seeded team (19-3) reaching the Elite Eight for third consecutive year the tournament has been played, watched NW Missouri build a 19-point halftime lead on his team by pounding the ball inside.

“You show me the weakness?” Brown said. “Maybe a little depth? They are tough, they are big and they know how to play every aspect of the game dribbling, passing and shooting.”

This one was close the opening seven minutes when at that point of the game WT junior 6-0 guard JoJo Murray scored on a contested drive in the lane knotting the game at 13.

That’s when NW Missouri took control, first by going on a 12-2 run owning a 25-13 lead with 9:31 remaining, then closing out the half with a 14-4 run building a hefty 48-29 halftime lead.

Both runs were sparked by the play of D-II national player of the year junior guard Trevor Hudgins, 6-7 senior forward Ryan Hawkins, 6-7 sophomore guard Wes Dreamer and 6-6 sophomore forward Luke Waters.

Hawkins was simply unstoppable near the basket scoring 31 points and grabbing 18 rebounds, while Dreamer added 19 points and 11 boards joining his teammate with a double double.

Hudgins and Waters also reached double figure scoring with 15 and 13 points, respectively.

Down 19 at half, as close as WT could get in the second half was within 16 points early on semifinal-hero Zach Toussaint hit a 3-pointer.

WT started one player taller than 6-1, and NW Missouri not only backed down shorter Buff players in the paint several times against the man-to-man defense, its height constantly altered the shots on drives near the basket by WT’s All-American guard duo of Murray and Qua Grant.

“We just ran out of gas,” Brown said. “It was a very physical game. Like I said they are big and know how to play.”

WT arrived Saturday averaging 92 points a game but ended up shooting 31.3 percent from the floor (20 of 64) and saw its normally powerful 3-point game put in check at 5-of-24.

Grant led the Buffs with 20 points and now sits nine points away of passing Ryan Quaid (1,750 points) in second place of the WT all-time scoring list.

Murray, hit with early foul trouble, was the other Buff finding double figures at 12. Murray ranks fourth on the WT all-time scoring list at 1,613 points.

However, rough and frustrating Saturday was for the Buffs, their 2020-21 season will go down as one of greatest in WT history.

Saturday marked merely the second time a Lone Star Conference team has played in the national title men’s game, the Buffs joining Northeastern (Okla.) State (2003 national champs).

Brown is 13-4 in NCAA D-II tournament games with a national quarterfinal, national semifinal and national runner-up finish.

Saturday wasn’t WT’s day. That’s an understatement. But in a few days when this memory fades, WT can look back and know this was a team which started all underclassmen and reached the school’s first-ever men’s national basketball championship game.

“What a ride these guys took us on,” said Brown, who is 181-43 since being named WT head coach on April 16, 2014. “It was a lot of fun. Really, we made a great run. I told our guys in the lockerroom keep your heads held up high. You played a game on March 27th. What, there are more than 300 teams in Division II and two teams can say that. Well, that’s pretty good season.”

NCAA Division II

National Championship Game

Ford Center, Evansville, Ind.

NW Missouri State 80, West Texas A&M 54

NW Missouri State (28-2): Ryan Hawkins 10-16 9-10 31, Wes Dreamer 8-11 0-2 19, Trevor Hudgins 4-11 6-6 15, Luke Waters 4-8 4-6 13, Diego Bernard 0-3 0-0 0, Isaiah Jackson 1-3 0-0 2, Daric Laing 0-1 0-0 0, Spencer Schomers 0-0 0-0 0, Jaran Richman 0-0 0-0 0, Mitch Mascari 0-0 0-0 0, Chrisitan Stanislay 0-1 0-0 0, Daniel Abreu 0-0 0-0 0, Byron Alexander 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-54 19-24 80.

West Texas A&M (19-3): Qua Grant 7-17 5-5 20, Joel Murray 4-17 2-3 12, Jon’il Fugett 2-11 2-3 6, Kavon Booker 3-5 0-0 6, Zach Toussaint 2-4 0-0 5, John Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Cameron Bell 1-5 0-0 3, Hayden Blankley 0-0 0-0 0, Calvin Fugett 0-2 0-0 0, Torian Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Parker Nielsen 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 20-64 9-11 54.

Halftime: NW Missouri 48, West Texas A&M 29. 3-point goals: NW Missouri (7-15) Hawkins 2-3, Dreamer 3-5, Hudgins 1-4, Waters 1-2, Lang 0-1); West Texas (5-24) Grant 1-5, Murray 2-6, J. Fugett 0-6, Toussaint 1-2, Bell 1-3, C. Fugett 0-1, Harris 0-1). Rebounds: NW Missouri 43 (Hawkins 18), West Texas 33 (Grant 6). Assists: NW Missouri 13 (Hudgins 5), West Texas 5 (Grant 2, Murray 2). Total fouls: NW Missouri 16, West Texas 21. Fouled out: Bernard, Blankley. None. Technicals: None.

NCAA Men’s Elite Eight

Wednesday’s Quarterfinals

Lincoln Memorial 90, Colorado School of Mines 76

West Texas A&M 97, Daemen 83

Northwest Missouri State 98, West Liberty 77

Flagler 70, Truman State 69

Thursday’s Semifinals

West Texas A&M 87, Lincoln Memorial 86

Northwest Missouri State 77, Flagler 46

Saturday’s final

Northwest Missouri State 80, West Texas A&M 54

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