Salem, VA – The longest postseason journey in the history of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor men's basketball team appeared to be coming to an end in the National Semifinals before the Cru found another gear to keep the drive to the Division III National Championship Game alive Saturday night in Salem, Virginia. Down by as many as 14 points to the #1 team in the country, UMHB stormed back to stun St. Thomas (MN) 74-67 to earn the program's first berth in the National title game.
St. Thomas opened the second half with a 12-3 run to push the lead to 14 at 50-36 and seemed to be taking control of the game. UMHB answered with a 14-6 run of its own to close to within six points with 7:44 remaining. The Tommies stretched the lead back to double figures with 6:31 to go, but the Cru ratcheted up the defensive pressure and wrapped three-pointers from Thomas Orr and Cory Meals around a pair of Layton Zinsmeister free throws to cut the gap to 60-58 with 4:53 on the clock. After a St. Thomas bucket and a UMHB free-throw, Meals converted a four-point play to give the Cru its first lead of the second half at 63-62. Will DeBerg answered with two free throws for St. Thomas, but Zinsmeister drained another three for the Cru. A free throw and DeBerg basket put St. Thomas back on top 67-66 with 38 seconds left on the clock. James Allen buried two free throws with 20 seconds left to give the Cru a 68-67 edge and Orr stole the ball on the ensuing possession. Orr hit both freebies after he was fouled on the play, pulled down a rebound and hit two more free throws eight seconds later. After a St. Thomas turnover, Zinsmeister put the icing on the victory with two free throws with two seconds left to set off the celebration.
UMHB led by as many as seven points midway through the first half, but went cold from the field as the Tommies heated up. St. Thomas closed the half with a 19-8 run to take a 38-33 lead at the break. The Tommies shot 57 percent from the field in the first half and held the Cru without a field goal for the final 9:34 of the half.
UMHB shot just 30 percent from the field in the second half, but hit 19-23 from the stripe to clinch the victory. The Cru defense also held St. Thomas to 39 percent shooting from the field and 3-11 from three-point range in the second stanza.
James Allen led UMHB with 19 points and he added seven rebounds. Kitrick Bell added 14 points and seven boards and Zinsmeister had the best game of his young career with 14 points, four steals and three assists. Orr also reached double figures with 11 points for the Cru.
DeBerg led the Tommies with 21 points as he hit 5-8 from beyond the arc. Tommy Hannon chipped in 15 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds. Erik Tengwall also reached double figures with 11 points. St. Thomas was just 8-21 from three-point range, one day after hitting 15-25 from beyond the arc in the Quarterfinal win over Williams College.
UMHB improves to 27-5 on the season with the victory and sets a new school record for wins in a season. The Cru is the first American Southwest Conference program or team from the state of Texas to advance to the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball National Championship Game. The Tommies, featuring seven players on the roster from the 2011 National Champion Team, finish the year at 30-2. The victory also marks the first win over the #1-ranked team in the country for the UMHB men's basketball team.
The Cru will face Amherst (MA) College in the Division III National Championship Game on April 7th. The Championship game will be played at Philips Arena and tip off is at 11:30 AM Central Time (12:30 Eastern). The Division III and Division II title games are being played in conjunction with the NCAA Division I Final Four.