The regional basketball season came to a close in Evansville on Thursday as St. Anselm ran into the hottest team in the country:
NORTHWEST MISSOURI STATE 76 ST. ANSELM 53
The greatest season in St. Anselm history came to an end in the national semifinals as #1 Northwest Missouri State used its trademark smothering defense and pulled away in the second half in improving to an amazing 37-0. Redshirt freshman Trevor Hudgins produced 27 points, four assists and six steals for the Bearcats, who ended the first half with a 9-2 flurry, flipping a 27-22 deficit into a 31-29 edge they would never surrender. A 29-11 blitz to open the second stanza put the game on ice at 60-40 after a Hudgins triple with 5:41 to play; the lead bouncing between 17 and 23 the rest of the way. Tim Guers closed out his brilliant career with 23 points and seven rebounds for the #20 Hawks, finishing with 2,327 total points, passing American International’s James Hector (2,306) for third on the all-time NE10 scoring list, behind Southern Connecticut’s Michael Mallory (2,515) and Assumption’s Drew Adderly (2,489). Chris Paul was the only other St. A’s player to reach double figures with 21 points in 40 minutes as he and Guers combined for all but nine of their team’s points. The Hawks were outshot from the floor (53%-39%), punished off turnovers (23-2) and outworked in the paint (54-30) while only mustering one of the game’s 15 steals. Northwest Missouri State, meanwhile, will battle sixth-seeded Point Loma (CA) for the national title on Saturday afternoon at the Ford Center, looking for its second championship in three years and hoping to become just the fifth undefeated team in D2 history, following Evansville (IN) in 1965, Cal-Bakersfield in 1993, Fort Hays State (KS) in 1996 and Findlay (OH) in 2009. The Bearcats can also match last year’s Ferris State (MI) team for most wins ever in a season with 38, and that would make them an absurd 100-5 over the last three years.
The result extends the national championship drought to 31 years for the East Region (formerly known as the Northeast and New England) - the longest such streak among all eight regions of Division 2 dating back to Lowell’s 1988 title. Additionally, it’s now been 14 years since a regional club has played in the national championship game – namely Bryant (like Mass-Lowell, a Division I team these days), which fell to Virginia Union in North Dakota at the 2005 Elite-8.
The game puts a capper on another season of reports from the East Region. A hearty thanks to all the coaches, sports information directors, players and administrators who have provided awesome information and hospitality as I made it to all 39 schools over the course of the winter. Thanks as well to all the fans and supporters who have followed the recaps, leaders, stats and standings on this one-of-a-kind website Steve Zerdelian and I created five years ago. Please watch for a season-ending “Around the Rim” column that will be posted here, hopefully within a week or so. Until the balls are rolled out again next fall, be safe and God bless!