Midwestern State battled to the end Sunday night in the NCAA Division II South Central Region semifinals before falling to No. 3 Metropolitan State 66-60 in front of 536 spectators at Auraria Event Center.
The Roadrunners (29-2) advance to face St. Mary's (Texas) -- a 62-50 winner over Fort Lewis (Colo.) -- Tuesday night in the region title game.
"It was a hard fought basketball game on both on both ends," MSU coach Nelson Haggerty said. "This team has battled through all kinds of adversity. They stepped up to the challenge. People doubted us throughout the year. We continued to grow as a basketball team and won the Lone Star Conference championship. I'm really proud of our team and what this team has done."
Behind the senior leadership of Kevin Grayer, Corbin Thomas, Chris Buttermore and Jeff Grayer, the Mustangs shook off numerous obstacles to claim the program's fifth Lone Star Conference championship while advancing to the NCAA II postseason for the fifth consecutive year.
"We always believed even until the last seconds of the basketball game," Haggerty said. "We believed until there were zeroes on the clock."
The Mustangs used a quick start to jump out to a 20-7 lead when Conner Geiser connected on a long 2-point jumper at the 12:29 mark of the first half. After pair of Metro State buckets, the Mustangs pushed the advantage back to 11 at 22-11 on a Thomas layup with 10:56 to play.
"We were able to put pressure on them and not let them swing the basketball in their offense," Haggerty said.
But then MSU went ice cold allowing the Roadrunners to outscore the Mustangs 22-6 over the remained of the half to take a 33-28 lead into intermission.
Early foul trouble accentuated the absence of sophomore guard Derrell Gibbs due to injury putting a strain on the MSU substitution rotation.
"With the adjustments, foul trouble and turnovers in the second half, they were able to come back and take the lead," Haggerty said. "The second half was about limiting turnovers and getting good shots against their zone. I thought we were able to do that."
Midwestern battled back to tie the game at 40-40 on Kevin Grayer's runner in the lane with 14:38 to play. The Mustangs never regained the lead, but were within 49-47 when Eddie D'Haiti hit a jumper in the lane with 10:53 to play.
But the Mustangs didn't score again until Thomas canned a pair of free throws at the 3:16 mark. By then, Metro State managed to stretch the lead into double figures and hit 7-of-10 charity tosses over a 3-minute stretch to hang on for the win.
MSU did pull within six on a Kevin Grayer 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds remaining and had a shot at another after forcing an MSUD turnover on the ensuing inbounds play.
"I thought our guys were prepared and ready to play, but we fell a little short tonight," Haggerty said.
Kevin Grayer paced MSU scoring efforts with 16 points while knocking down four 3-pointers.
"I don't think I've asked more of any player than I have of Kevin Grayer since he's been here," Haggerty said. "We've asked to play multiple positions and guard different players, but he's always stepped up to the challenge."
Junior forward Eddie D'Haiti knocked down a pair of early 3-pointers on his way to a 12-point, 8-rebound effort. Thomas pitched in eight points and six rebounds while Cam Adderley and Jeff Grayer scored seven points each.
Demetrius Miller paced the Roadrunners with 18 points and was joined in double figures by Jonathan Morse (16 points, 7 rebounds) and Mitch McCarron (13 points, 6 rebounds).
Midwestern State closed its fifth-straight 20-win campaign at 22-9.