Fifth-ranked Midwestern State began their quest for a third consecutive Elite Eight appearance with a 62-54 victory over St. Mary's (Texas) University in an NCAA Division II South Central Regional quarterfinal game Saturday night.
The top-seeded Mustangs, who led 30-23 at the half, used a balanced scoring attack and a strong inside game to get past the Rattlers and earn their 16th consecutive home victory in the friendly confines of D.L. Ligon Coliseum.
Midwestern State dominated inside the paint, outscoring St. Mary's 40 to 28. MSU shot 10 of 17 from inside the three point arc in the first half, but just one of nine from beyond the arc.
Senior reserve forward Chris Buttermore provided a spark for the Mustangs in the first half with a team-high eight points in seven minutes off the bench, including a rim-rattling dunk that got the home crowd on their feet. He finished with a career-high 13 points on six of nine shooting from the field and one out of two at the free-throw line.
St. Mary's, winners of the Heartland Conference tournament last weekend and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, started out strong against Midwestern State, trailing just 21-19 at the 6:24 mark. However, the Rattlers only scored two field goals the final 6:04 of the half, allowing the Mustangs to go on a 9-4 run to end the half.
Senior Lamb Autrey led St. Mary's with eight points in the first half, while senior Ray Marshall added six.
Junior Kevin Kotzur, a second-team selection for the Daktronics All-South Central Region team or St. Mary's, was slowed by two personal fouls in the first half, scoring just four points.
Both teams combined for 20 turnovers in the game's first 20 minutes, with 11 for the Rattlers and nine for Midwestern State.
St. Mary's cut the lead to four points at the 14:42 mark of the second half, but could get no closer as the Mustangs got solid scoring from the bench, outscoring the Rattler's reserves 35-9.
Midwestern State won the rebounding battle, hauling down 37 boards to St. Mary's 21 rebounds.
Despite shooting just 2 of 11 from beyond the three-point line, the Mustangs had four players in double-figures. Along with Buttermore, David Terrell had a team-high 15 points, Thomas Colbert added 12 points and JaMichael Rivers chipped in 10 points to pace Midwestern State.
For St. Mary's, Kotzur had a game-high 17 points and Autrey finished with 14 to lead the scoring column.
Midwestern State, the co-champs of the Lone Star Conference, improves to 27-3 overall and advances to the semifinals of the regional tournament and will play Washburn on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Eighth-seeded St. Mary's, who went 5-2 this year against Lone Star Conference opponents, ends their season at 19-9.