SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Mount Vernon Nazarene University men’s basketball closed out a historic season on Friday night, as the Cougars fell to No. 4 Morningside (Iowa), 75-69, in the Round of 16 at the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament.
MVNU (27-8) got off to a hot start, with 3-pointers from Jevon Knox and Jordi Mas opening up an early 8-4 lead. Knox nailed another three for an 11-5 lead, but a basket and two free throws took the lead down to 11-9.
Morningside (30-3) tied the game at 13, but an Alex Johnson three gave the Cougars the lead right back, and Isaac White hit his first three of the game to make the lead two possessions again. Back-to-back Morningside baskets tied the game again, but a Knox jumper restored MVNU’s lead at 21-19.
After the teams traded buckets, Mas made a lay-in to make the score 25-21, and White made the lead 27-22 with a jumper from the right corner. After an MVNU stop, White knocked down a three to make the score 30-22.
Matt Hahn scored five straight points to pull Morningside within three, but Jeremiah Roberts responded with a lay-up. Back-to-back baskets by Morningside forced a Mount Vernon timeout with the Cougars up, 32-31, and Johnson hit a hook shot out of the timeout to get the lead to three again. After a Mustang jumper from the top of the lane, Roberts drained a three from the right wing to make the lead 37-33.
A basket and two free throws tied the game again, but Jacob Paul got in on the scoring with a three from the right corner to give the Cougars the lead again. Brody Egger knocked down a jumper off the glass, but MVNU held a 40-39 advantage at the break.
Zach Imig opened the second half with a jumper to give Morningside the lead, 41-40, but Paul responded with a straight-away three on the next possession to give MVNU the lead. Alex Borchers tied the game again, and Imig put one up over Brett Vipperman to put the Mustangs up by two. Borchers then got an open three, putting the Mustangs up 48-43 after the first four minutes of the second half.
Vipperman stopped the run with a lay-in, and Mas connected on the other end in transition to cut the lead to 48-47. Trey Brown got a bucket in response, and Imig hit minutes later to make the lead 52-47. Brown hit another shot in the paint to make the lead seven, but a pair of Knox free throws prevented the lead from getting out of hand, 54-49.
Vipperman knocked down a three after a stop to slash the Morningside lead to 54-52, and the teams remained within two before Vipperman tied the game at 58 with a hook shot.
Morningside regained the lead on a Hahn lay-up, and Paul buried both bonus shots to tie the game again. Another foul on a rebound, sent Johnson to the free-throw line, where he hit one of two bonus shots to put MVNU back up, 61-60.
Egger hit a three after a turnover to put the Mustangs back up 63-61, but Vipperman answered to tie the score at 63. Tyler Borchers put Morningside back up 66-63 with a three-point play, and Egger hit a pair of free throws to make the lead 68-63. Free throws down the stretch sealed it for Morningside, which earned a trip to the NAIA Quarterfials with the victory.
Tyler Borchers led all scorers with 26 points for the Mustangs, and Egger and Imig each added 13 points. Knox had a tea-high 18 points for MVNU, and Vipperman collected 11 points.
The Cougars returned to the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament for the first time since 2008-09, and won a tournament game for the first time since 2007. MVNU hosted a Crossroads League Conference Tournament game for the first time after a fourth-place finish, and reached the Crossroads League Tournament Championship game for the first time. MVNU matched a program record with 27 wins, and won a team record four overtime games, playing in six.