Bods lose by 2 in MIAA finals to UNO

Sophomore guard William McNeill guards a Nebraska-Omaha player during Sunday’s MIAA Tournament Championship. Washburn lost 69-67 to the Mavericks and will not be playing in the NCAA tournament.

Chris Marshall

Washburn squeezed into the MIAA Tournament on the last day of the regular season, and after an improbable run to the championship, the Bods found themselves on the brink of stealing an NCAA Tournament bid as well.

WU upset top-seeded Central Missouri, the No. 4 team in the nation, 79-60 in the opening round, then topped Missouri Western 56-43 in the semifinals to set up a championship showdown with Nebraska-Omaha on Division II’s Selection Sunday.

Despite spending most of the year battling for the eighth spot in the conference standings, all the Bods (16-14, 8-12 MIAA) needed to do was beat UNO to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament invitation.

Just as they did the previous two days, the Bods played as underdogs against the third-seeded Mavericks. WU closed the first half with a 9-0 run to go ahead 31-30, but UNO reestablished its lead in the second half and the Bods came just short of tying the game in the final seconds, losing 69-67.

William McNeill’s game-tying lay-up attempt bounced off the bottom of the rim as the clock expired, ending WU’s season painfully close to an MIAA Tournament title. In his 31 years coaching the Bods, Bob Chipman said few losses have hurt more, yet few teams have fought harder.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Chipman said. “I’ve been in national championship games and I can’t remember ever one meaning as much as this one meant. This group could’ve quit and didn’t quit.”

With 2:27 left to play, Logan Stutz scored the last field goal of the game when he stole the ball and layed it in to pull WU within one point. Both teams hit one free throw and with 50 seconds remaining, UNO led 68-67.

Maurice Colter missed a go-ahead 3-pointer with six seconds on the clock and WU was forced to foul. UCM’s Aaron Terry hit his first free throw, but missed the second and De’Andre Washington grabbed the rebound and called time-out for WU.

With two seconds left on the clock, Washington received a three-quarters court in-bounds pass as three defenders swarmed to cover him. He quickly fired the ball to McNeill, who was running wide open beneath the basket. The sophomore guard leapt in the air to catch the ball and put up the shot all in one motion, but it deflected off the rim as the clock hit zero, sending several WU players falling to the ground as UCM celebrated at mid-court.

The Bods cut UCM’s lead to one point five times in the last 10 minutes, but they were never able to regain the lead, missing several of the momentum-changing shots that got them to this stage of the tournament.

Stutz, who scored a career-high 23 points, said if just one or two more shots would have fallen, the Bods could have pulled off their third upset in three days.

“We were never able to get over that hump,” Stutz said. “I think we would have been fine if we got over it and hit our shots but we just came up short.”

Stutz shot seven of nine from the field and made 9-11 free throws to go with eight rebounds, while Washington added 14 points and 13 rebounds to earn his 12th double-double of the season.

Both made the all-tournament team along with UCM’s Tyler Bullock, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors with 19 points in the championship.

Washburn became the third straight No. 8 seed to reach the MIAA title game, but all three have fallen just short of continuing their Cinderella stories into the NCAA Tournament. Few expected WU to even get past UCM in the first round, but the Bods extended their season by simply outplaying their first two postseason opponents.

“I was a little surprised,” Stutz said of the win against the Mules. “I thought they’d make a push against us but they never did. I’m not surprised at our effort, because I knew we’d play hard, but I’m surprised they didn’t make it more of a game.”

WU jumped out to a 29-11 lead and never looked back against UCM, a team ranked in the top 10 all season. The Mules cut the lead to eight points with 5:18 left in the game, but WU responded with a 5-0 run to secure the upset.

The Bods fell behind early against Missouri Western, but at the 3:54 mark of the first half they took the lead for good on a Washington 3-pointer. Offensively, Washington and Stutz carried WU through the tournament. Stutz scored 57 points through the three games and Washington added 49.

The win against the Griffons was Chipman’s 29th in MIAA Tournament play, an all-time record for the conference. Before the tournament began, WU’s longtime coach said the title was up for grabs, and from the opening tipoff, his team proved him right.

“We really bought into what he said,” Stutz said. “We had the mindset that everyone’s 0-0 again in the postseason and if we played our best, we’d keep playing. That’s the way we felt going into it.”

On a team with no seniors, WU was one of the conference’s least-experienced squads all season. However, when March rolled around, Chipman showed why he’s one of the best in MIAA history, leading a team with just three returning players within two points of the NCAA Tournament.

“They’re great kids, just great kids,” Chipman said after the loss to UNO. “They were out-matched, real young, but it’s just a wonderful group.”