Drury comes from 17 down to win Division II championship

Drury forward Cameron Adams (24) and guard Alex Hall react as time expires in their 74-73 win against Metro State in the NCAA Division II national championship on Sunday in Atlanta.

Drury forward Cameron Adams (24) and guard Alex Hall react as time expires in their 74-73 win against Metro State in the NCAA Division II national championship on Sunday in Atlanta. Photo by The Associated Press.

ATLANTA — When Drury seemed to be overmatched by Metro State, falling behind by 17 points late in the first half, coach Steve Hesser said he told his players “to get back to being us.”

That plan included getting the ball to leading scorer Alex Hall when the game was on the line.

Hall made two free throws with 22.8 seconds remaining as Drury rallied from the big deficit and beat Metro State 74-73 to win the Division II national championship Sunday.

“We had a chip on our shoulder after that first half,” Hall said.

“We never stopped. We just kept going.”

Metro State’s Mitch McCarron missed a last-chance jumper. Time ran out before Brandon Jefferson could attempt a follow shot, which also was off-target.

As Metro State coach Derrick Clark slammed the scorer’s table in frustration, Drury’s players converged in a wild midcourt celebration and soon were covered in confetti at Phillips Arena.

Drury (31-4), from Springfield, Mo., closed the season with 23 straight wins to earn its first championship. The postgame celebration seemed an unlikely dream when the Panthers were struggling with first-half turnovers and Metro State was dominating the battle for rebounds.

Hesser said he told his players at halftime, “We’ve got 20 minutes left. Win, lose or draw, let’s do what you do. Just chip away and get back to being us.”

Hall said Hesser was “beet-red” because Metro State continued to grab offensive rebounds. Hall said that was motivation as he grabbed a missed free throw by Nicholas Kay with 24 seconds remaining. Brandon Jefferson fouled Hall, setting up the go-ahead free throws.

“I was like, ‘Oh geez, I need to get this,’” Hall said. “When I went up, (Jefferson) came up underneath me, and the rest is history.”

Hall led the Panthers with 21 points. He began the night averaging 29.4 points in the postseason, including a season-high 35 points in Drury’s semifinal win against Western Washington.

Brandon Lockhart had 14 and Drake Patterson had 12 for Drury.

Metro State (32-3) had 17 steals but appeared to tire in the closing minutes as it relied on its starters for all its points.

Jefferson led the Roadrunners with 19 points. McCarron added 16 points, eight rebounds and seven steals.

“Drury played an outstanding game,” Clark said. “They never accepted that they were down. We jumped on them, we had a great start, and they always made a run, and they played like champions today. We didn’t lose the national championship. Drury won it.”

Drury’s bench outscored Metro State’s 12-0.

The lack of depth became a bigger factor when Metro State starting guard Demetrius Miller, who had 14 points, fouled out with 2:09 remaining.

Metro State, from Denver, was denied its third title. It won championships in 2000 and 2002.

Metro State led 39-22 late in the first half but Drury rallied by making nine of its first 12 shots early in the second half, finally pulling even at 53 on a 3-pointer by Lonnie Boga.

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