|Winona State punched their ticket to the Elite Eight Tuesday night beating Minnesota State-Mankato 76-73 in a back and forth overtime thriller in the NCAA Division II Central Region Championship game. The game featured 12 ties and 20 lead changes and the biggest lead of the game was six points.
Winona State trailed by three near the end of regulation when Xavier Humphrey drove the lane and scored and got fouled with 26 seconds to go. Humphrey nailed the free throw to tie it and Mankato had one last opportunity in regulation but the Warriors blocked their shot in the lane.
Winona State came up with some big shots in the overtime session including a 3-pointer from Kellen Taylor to give Winona State a one point lead with 1:15 remaining in OT. The Mavericks converted on a couple of free throws to take the lead back 73-72 on their next possession. Winona State's Grant Johnson then nailed a mid-range jumper with 23 seconds remaining to give the Warriors a one-point lead. After a missed shot by Mankato, Humphrey knocked down two free throws to put the Warriors up by three with five seconds left. The Mavericks final 3pt shot came nowhere close and the Warriors clinched their first Elite Eight appearance since 2008.
Minnesota State-Mankato nearly won the game at the free throw line in the second half. The Warriors put the Mavericks in the double bonus with twelve minutes left in the game and Mankato ended up hitting 23-31 free throws in the second half and overtime. The Warriors' defense did limit the Mavericks to just 40 % shooting from the field. Minnesota State-Mankato likes to get out and run and the Warriors didn't allow a fast break bucket the entire game and Warriors head coach Mike Leaf thought that was a big key to the win.
Clayton Vette led Winona State with 22 points and the Warriors put five players in double figures overall. Vette was named the tournament MVP while Taylor Cameron was also named to the all-tournament team.
Winona State will now head to Louisville, Kentucky for the Elite Eight and they will take on number one ranked West Liberty next Thursday March 28th at 4:30.