LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No. 3 Metro State stunned No. 1 West Liberty (W.Va.) 83-76 on Saturday in Louisville, Ky., to advance to the NCAA Division II national championship.
The Roadrunners improved to 32-2 overall, while WLU ended its season at 34-2. It is the second year in a row MSU Denver has eliminated the No. 1-ranked team at the NCAA tournament.
Metro State will be making its fourth trip to the national championship game, which will be played at 4 p.m. (ET) in Atlanta on Sunday, April 7. The Roadrunners won the championship in 2000 and 2002.
All five starters scored in double figures for Metro State on Saturday with Nicholas Kay, Jonathan Morse and Brandon Jefferson leading the way with 17 points each. Kay shot 8-of-9 from the floor and grabbed nine rebounds. Morse also had nine rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots. Jefferson buried 3-of-6 3-pointers and had four steals.
Mitch McCarron recorded his fourth double-double this season, scoring 14 points and tying a career high with 16 rebounds. He also had three assists. Demetrius Miller scored 15 points and had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.
Metro State held the nation's top-scoring team to just 76 points, the second-lowest point total this season for the Hilltoppers, who average 103.6 points per game. MSU Denver also held them to a season-low 33.7 field goal percentage, well under their previous low of 41.7 percent. In addition to defending the shooter, the Roadrunners outrebounded West Liberty 49-43, overcoming a season-high 22 turnovers.
After the Hilltoppers scored the first basket of the game, MSU Denver rattled off 15 straight points to lead 15-2 just five minutes into the game. The Roadrunners built a 20-4 lead midway through the first half, though WLU finally started to hit shots late in the half, twice trimming the lead to nine points.
West Liberty had not trailed by more than 13 points at any point during a game all season, trailing Seton Hill 48-35 at halftime on Jan. 10, a game the Hilltoppers won 81-72. That was also their previous lowest-scoring first half of the season.
On Saturday, the Roadrunners led 41-28 at the break after holding WLU to 28.6 percent shooting and outrebounding the Hilltoppers 26-17. Both teams committed 11 first-half turnovers. MSU Denver entered the game leading Division II in fewest turnovers per game at 10.0.
West Liberty came out and hit three 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half and trimmed its deficit to six points at 53-47 with 14:09 left, the closest score since four minutes into the first half.
MSU Denver responded with seven straight points from its Australians as McCarron had five points off a 3-pointer and a layup and Kay finished a dunk assisted by McCarron.
An 8-0 WLU run over a minute-and-a-half cut Metro State's lead to one point at 64-63 with 5:43 left.
The Roadrunners made 5-of-6 free throws over the next minute to lead 69-65 with 4:26 to play.
After the Hilltoppers cut it to one point again, Jefferson drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to put MSU Denver back in front 72-68 with 2:37 left. Morse pulled down a defensive rebound and then calmly sunk two free throws for a 74-68 lead with two minutes remaining.
The Roadrunners stretched the lead back to 10 points with 55 seconds left after a free throw by Miller.
Metro State's defense held WLU to just 2-of-15 shooting in the final 4:17 to close out the victory.
Alex Falk scored 34 points to lead the Hilltopers, making 12-of-26 of his shots and forcing six steals.
Metro State will face the winner of defending champion Western Washington and Drury (Mo.) in the national championship.
-- Metro State University