Guards Bretson McNeal and Kevin Wagner combined to score 15 of the last 17 points to lift seventh-seeded Midwestern State to a 58-56 win over No. 2-seeded Metropolitan State-Denver Saturday afternoon in the opening round of the NCAA Division II South Central Regional at Wisdom Gym in Stephenville, Texas.
"What a great game," MSU coach Nelson Haggerty said. "If there is anyone outside of our conference that we know well, it's Metro. It was a defensive battle with both teams guarding and playing hard."
The win avenged back-to-back season ending losses for the Mustangs to Metro State as the Roadrunners claimed victories in the 2013 semifinals and the 2014 regional title game - both games played in Denver.
Midwestern also improved to a perfect 7-0 in NCAA Division II first round games and moves on to face 19th-ranked Angelo State in the semifinal round Sunday night at Wisdom Gym. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.
The Mustangs battled Metro State's duo of All Americans throughout the contest holding Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year Mitch McCarron without a point while building an eight-point lead in the opening half.
Senior forward Nicholas Kay took up the slack for the Roadrunners pouring in a game-high 29 points including a 12-of-17 effort from the free throw line helping Metro State take a three-point advantage at 40-37 with 8:36 to play.
Midwestern State responded with consecutive second-chance points as Hershell Grant hit an 8-foot jumper in the paint before Khapri Alston put back McNeal's miss from 15 feet away to give the Mustangs a 41-40 lead.
But Kay and McCarron scored the next six points to push the Roadrunner advantage to 46-41 with 5:36 to go.
McNeal sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around four free throw makes by Wagner as the Mustangs surged to a 51-48 edge with 3:26 remaining.
The pendulum would swing one more time as Kay hit a runner in the lane then converted a pair of free throws, before McCarron chipped in two more charity tosses as Metro State re-established a 54-51 lead with 1:18 to go.
MSU senior forward Xavier Blackburn hit a pair of free throws before McNeal converted a traditional three-point play on a baseline drive, crashing through McCarron to give MSU a 56-54 lead.
"I got the mismatch with the big guy," McNeal said. "I was as aggressive as I could be. I thought it might be called a charge, but I was able to get the ball up quick enough. It was a big play at the right time."
The call went against McCarron as the teams exchanged scoreless possessions in the final minute of play.
A Metro State bucket on a tip-in was waved off with 13.6 seconds to play sending Will Sinclair to the free throw line, but Sinclair missed both ends of the double bonus allowing the Mustangs to escape with the victory.
McNeal connected on five 3-pointers to finish with a team-high 19 points, while Wagner connected on 3-of-5 shots from the field while going 7-of-8 from the charity stripe for 14 points.