TJ White and Daylen Robinson have been playing basketball together since middle school.
So it isn’t a surprise that with a trip to the NCAA Division II championship game on the line, the Kansas City natives hooked up in a big moment for Central Missouri.
Robinson, driving down the floor in a tied national semifinal game against top-ranked Metro State, dished the ball off to White, who scored the game-winning layup with 1 second left in a thrilling 71-69 victory over the top-ranked Roadrunners at the Ford Center on Thursday night.
The Mules’ first trip to the national championship game since 1984 wasn’t sealed, however, until a desperation three-point attempt by Mitch McCarron bounced off the rim as time expired.
Once the shot missed, the celebration was on. The No. 20 Mules, 29-5, will play at 2 p.m. Saturday in a nationally televised game on CBS as they take aim at winning their first title in 30 years. In 1984, Central Missouri made NCAA history by winning the men’s and women’s Division II titles in the same season.
Central will play West Liberty (W.Va.).
“I thought Daylen was going to score, so I just crashed to the basket, but when he got double-teamed, I knew he was passing it to me,” said White, who’s from Raytown and starred at O’Hara. “I’ve never played for a championship in my life. It’s an unreal feeling.”
Metro State, whose 29-game win streak was snapped, trailed by 11 at one point in the second half after being down 42-34 at halftime. The Roadrunners, 32-2, tied the score at 69-69 with 7.7 seconds to go on two free throws by McCarron.
Robinson knew there was plenty of time to make a play. And he knew exactly what he was going to do in that pressure-packed situation.
“We’ve been playing together since seventh grade and have made a lot of plays like that,” said Robinson, a Texas Tech transfer who played his high school hoops at Northeast. “I always look for TJ when I’m going to the basket like that because I know he’s going to be there.”
The Mules, who led 54-43 after a drive along the baseline by White with 17:41 remaining, went through a stretch of 8-plus minutes without a field goal. They also missed four free throws in that time and shot only 19 of 33 from the line overall.
But the Roadrunners weren’t scoring either. They went a little more than 7 minutes without a field goal, although their free-throw shooting kept it close. Metro State tied the game at 62-62, and the game was tied again at 65 and 69.
“My guys gave a gutty performance,” Central Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “We knew they would they would make a run. I was hoping they wouldn’t, but I knew it was going to happen. We were able to score just enough to win.”
The Mules shot 46.9 percent, 23 for 49, from the floor, and Charles Hammork played a pivotal role. He scored 14 points, with one of his biggest highlights being a four-point play. Hammork was knocked down as he hit a three-pointer and nailed the free throw for a 46-37 lead.
“Charles wasn’t going to let us lose,” Anderson said. “He wasn’t ready for his career to be over.”
Robinson scored 13 points, Smithville grad Dillon Deck finished with 12, and White added 11. The Mules held the Roadrunners to 32.2 percent, 19 for 59, shooting from the field.
Anderson, 0-2 in his previous two trips to the national semifinals, is glad to finally move on.
“I’m speechless,” Anderson said. “This team really jelled after our loss in the conference tournament and they have been focused ever since. I’m very proud.”