Mustangs Suffer 2nd Straight Elite Eight Loss

MSU Sports Information

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Midwestern State got just want it wanted in the second half Wednesday at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight quarterfinals at MassMutual Center.

But the Mustangs just didn't make enough shots down the stretch as No. 2 Bellarmine moves on with a 70-64 win.

The Knights move on to face Minnesota State-Mankato, who defeated Alabama-Huntsville in the second quarterfinal game Wednesday.

"That was a great offensive team," MSU coach Grant McCasland said. "We did what we wanted to do defensively in the second half. Our guys executed the game plan and just couldn't get it to go down for us down the stretch. That ended up being the difference in the game."

Midwestern held the Knights to their second lowest scoring output of the season and limited them to just three 3-pointers - a season low.

And the game seemed to turn on a kick of the ball as the Mustangs clung to a one-point advantage with five minutes to play.

MSU had used an 8-0 run powered by a pair of inside buckets from senior forward Charlie Logan and pair of transition layups by Michael Loyd and Chris Hagan that pushed the Mustangs' advantage to 58-54 with 6:36 to play.

But Bellarmine countered as Justin Benedetti, who finished with a team-high 21 points, knocked down 3-of-4 free throws to cut the margin to 58-57.

The teams exchanged turnovers as the Mustangs appeared on the verge of a 3-on-1 break before Bellarmine's Chris Dow appeared to kick the ball, collect it and hit a wide open Nick Holmes as the Knights regained the lead at 59-58.

Bellarmine extended the run to 8-0 as the Mustangs were held scoreless for a stretch of 5:41 before Chris Hagan knocked down a free throw with 51.9 seconds to play.

"We just couldn't get anything to go down the stretch," McCasland said. "I didn't do a good enough job of keeping our guys aggressive and keeping the ball moving. I felt we got a little stalled."

The Mustangs were far from stalled at the opening tip as Logan converted a pass from his brother Keonte for a dunk and Hagan banged in eight points in a two-minute salvo to give the Mustangs an early 10-2 lead.

Bellarmine would punch back to take only a brief lead on a Luke Sprague jumper with 9:59 to go until halftime, but the Mustangs battled back to push the lead back to 35-29 on David Terrell's traditional three-point-play off of a dunk from a Kevin Loyd lob 2:53 before intermission.

In fact, the Knights would hold just two leads in the whole game before the Mustangs hit a dry spell late in the second half.

"I feel bad the ride ends here for this group," McCasland said. "They love each other, they loved playing together. I came into this game feeling we were going to win. I feel like we had what it took to win. We were going to find a way to win the basketball game."

Hagan, a 5-9 senior guard from Houston, finished with a game-high 24 points and became just the 10th player in the storied history of MSU basketball to amass 700 points in a season.

The LSC South Division Player of the Year and Preseason Sporting All American finishes the season with 707 points and closes his career with 1,188 points - the third most for any two-year player in program history.

"Chris was the first player I signed at MSU," McCasland said. "He is the hardest worker and one of the toughest players I've ever coached. I can't say enough about what these guys put into it and it makes me sick that we couldn't win for their sake because of their efforts."

Junior forward Darrick Thomas joined Logan with 10 points and six rebounds, while junior guard Michael Loyd added nine points, four rebounds and five assists and David Terrell pitched in seven points and three rebounds.

The loss ends an improbable run through the postseason as the Mustangs clinched an Elite Eight berth for the second consecutive year by defeating the top three seeds in the South Central Region including wins over No. 17 Tarleton State, No. 9 Missouri Southern and No. 4 Central Oklahoma.

No. 2 Bellarmine represented the Mustangs' 11th game this season against a team ranked in the NABC Division II poll.

"This team has been resilient all year long," McCasland said. "For us to be here and have this opportunity, I can't say enough about this group."

The Mustangs lose five seniors this season including Hagan, Logan, Terrell, Adrian Van Buren and Jon Trilli.