Daylen Robinson raced down the floor, a defender on his trail, and Central Missouri teammate TJ White right behind him.
Rather than go for the layup, he spun the ball behind his back to White, who threw down a one-hand dunk that helped slam the door on Southern Connecticut in a 98-88 victory over the Owls in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight on Wednesday afternoon at the Ford Center.
The play by Robinson extended the Mules’ lead to 84-73, and was one of several the Kansas City native and Northeast High grad made as he scored a career-high 28 points, including 16 in the second half. No. 20 Central Missouri, 28-5, reached the final four for the first time since 2009.
“Coach told us to be aggressive,” said Robinson, who won the DiRenna Award as the KC-area’s best boys player in 2010. “I was able to do that and create opportunities for myself and my teammates.”
Robinson lives for big moments, and playing on this stage is the reason he left Texas Tech after one season with the Red Raiders.
“I wanted to play for a great program and great coach,” Robinson said. “No one is selfish. We play as a team. It feels great to be moving on.”
Robinson cashed in on several scoring chances in the second half, thanks in part to the Owls’ plan to double-team Dillon Deck in the paint. Deck, from Smithville, scored 10 of the Mules’ first 13 points in the second half before No. 4 Southern Connecticut, 30-3, tightened up on defense.
But while Deck was silenced, it was go-time for Robinson.
He drilled two three-pointers, including one on a kick-out from Deck that extended Central Missouri’s lead to 70-61 with 10 minutes left, and cut down the lane with eight minutes left for a layup for a 74-68 lead.
Southern Connecticut got as close as 76-73 after a jumper by Michael Mallory, but Central Missouri used an 8-0 run that ended with White’s dunk to pull away.
“They are so good on the push and have great shooters, Central Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I thought keeping them on their heels a bit was important. We made plays when it got close.”
The Mules, who led 45-39 at halftime, overwhelmed the Owls with a balanced attack that included 18 points from Charles Hammork, 16 out of Deck and 11 apiece from White and Jon Gilliam. Central Missouri shot 50.8 percent (33 for 65) from the field and was 24 of 29 from the free-throw line.
“They had answers all day,” Owls head coach Michael Donnelly said. “They were able to capitalize from three-point range, they got to the rim and capitalized from the line.”
Mallory led the Owls with 22 points and Tylon Smith scored 20. Southern Connecticut shot 42.4 percent (28 for 66) from the field as its 19-game win streak came to an end.
The Mules play at 6 p.m. Thursday against No. 1 Metro State (Colo.), a 106-87 quarterfinal winner over Tuskegee (Ala.). The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
A trip to the national championship game, which tips at 2 p.m. Saturday on CBS, will be on the line.
“We’ve got a saying of no regrets when we take the court,” Hammork said. “We know if we give it our all, we’ve got a great chance of winning.”