Missouri Valley turned its first appearance in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship since 1961 into a classic with a thrilling 71-69 overtime victory over No. 4 seed Freed-Hardeman on Thursday night at Municipal Auditorium.
With 1.6 seconds left in overtime and the game tied at 69-69, senior forward James Lane stepped to the line and calmly swished two free throws for the win.
“You saw me walking around before I shot the free throws,” said Lane, who finished with 17 points. “We practice free throws when we are fatigued. I was fatigued. It was really like practice. I stepped up and knocked them down with a lot of confidence.”
It took a crazy turn of events to get Lane in position for the clutch free throws. Missouri Valley had the ball with 28 seconds left, 26 on the shot clock. The Vikings worked the shot clock down, but then fumbled the ball and had a shot clock violation, leaving 2.2 seconds for Freed-Hardeman to go the length of the court.
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The inbound pass was thrown out of bounds near the Freed-Hardeman bench without anybody touching it.
The Vikings got the ball back under their goal. Lane got the ball, was fouled and the rest history.
“We are on cloud nine right now,” Lane said. “It is OK for us to enjoy it right now, but we have to calm down tomorrow and work again.”
Missouri Valley, which will return to action 8 tonight against No. 13 seed, Mid-America Christian, picked up just its fourth national tournament win.
As exciting as the end of overtime was, the final 23 seconds in regulation were also filled with drama. With the game tied 60-60, Missouri Valley freshman Byron Cooke went to the free-throw line. He missed both, but retrieved the loose ball, made the layup and was fouled. He made the free throw, giving Missouri Valley a 63-60 lead with 20 seconds left.
Freed-Hardeman answered 13 seconds later when senior Ben Meis drilled a guarded three-pointer.
“We were there guarding him chest to chest and he rose up and hit it,” said senior guard Brad Hamilton, who finished with 16 points. “You have to give him credit for that.”