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Northern State falls to Ferris State in NCAA D2 title game

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—Ferris State silenced a Northern State-crazed crowd with a 5-0 run and won the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament on Saturday, March 24.

The Wolves lost to the Bulldogs 71-69 at a maroon-and-gold packed Sanford Pentagon attendance record crowd of 3,538 fans. It was Ferris State's first-ever team national championship and it was a heartbreaking finish for the Wolves, who finish the season 36-4.

"I know it stings now," NSU senior Logan Doyle said. "(But) If you would have told me at the start of the year we were going to be second of over 300-plus (NCAA) D2 teams, I would have taken it. It stings when you get all the way here and lose."

Trailing 69-66 with three minutes left, the Bulldogs (38-1) scored the last five points and NSU's Darin Peterka deep 3-pointer was short at the horn.

"I would take that look every single time because he is a 40-plus percent three and 70 percent of the shots he makes are right where he took that shot," NSU coach Paul Sather said about his savvy senior guard. "All Darin has done is just given his heart and soul to this program and I know he's hurting right now, but my gosh, what a young guy."

Peterka gave NSU its first lead (65-64) of the second half on a driving layup with 4-minutes and 27 seconds left. The teams exchanged the lead two more times and a Peterka to Carter Evans alley-oop put NSU ahead 69-66 with three minutes left as the Wolves faithful had the Pentagon rocking.

But Ferris State closed it out from there. Two Peter Firlik free throws and Zach Hankins hit the go-ahead basket to put the Bulldogs up 70-69 with 1:31 left.

In the final minute, the Wolves had a turnover and D.J. Pollard missed a contested layup that would have given NSU a 71-70 lead with 11 seconds left. Ferris State's Markese Mayfield was fouled on the Pollard miss and went to the free throw line with 10 ticks left. He made the first, but was called for a lane violation. After making the second, NSU's Ian Smith brought the ball up the court and took a high ball screen from Doyle. Peterka slipped to the top of the 3-point line and Smith found him open for the shot, but the 3-pointer was short as time expired.

Evans said he had all the confidence in Peterka that he would hit the shot.

"He loves those NBA threes," Evans joked afterward. "So I had full confidence that it was going in. That's why something like that is tough to take."

The Bulldogs took the 3-point line away from the Wolves, who finished 1-for-4 from beyond the arc.

"They got us out of our motion some and I think sometimes in our motion, it's the best way to get the ball inside, too." Sather said. "As the course of the game was going on, it just felt like we were still in attack mode with that high ball screen. Even though we weren't maybe getting threes, I still thought we were getting great looks with opportunities to get the ball inside."

Evans finished with 20 points, while Doyle had 14 points and seven rebounds. Peterka had 14 points and Smith scored 12.

Hankins, the NCAA Division II Player of the Year, scored 19 points. Firlik scored 12 points for the Bulldogs.

The Wolves threw the first punch, jumping out to a 9-2 lead. NSU forced the issue and made hay with its dribble penetration. Smith scored six straight points and Evans hit a shot to put the Wolves up 27-20. Ferris State weathered the storm and Hankins scored eight of the Bulldogs' 19 points to close the first half. The Bulldogs led 39-37 at the break.

It was an evenly-contested contest, with both teams shooting close to 50 percent. The Wolves outrebounded the Bulldogs, 33-27.

"There is such a fine line between winning and losing sometimes and it was a heavyweight match tonight," Sather said. "I think if we had a couple of plays that maybe we made, we win. Sometimes it is just as simple as that."

It capped one of the most successful seasons for the Wolves, who also won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular season title and conference tourney title. NSU's 36 wins are the most in a season for a South Dakota men's college basketball team.

"It stings and it is going to hurt," Sather added about the loss. "They are going to looking back on this and they are going to remember just the incredible run that they had."