By Chad Courrier
---- — MANKATO — Preston Brunz can finally celebrate.
Even though Central Missouri won its first two games, Brunz, a junior guard from Mankato West, had more fouls than points. But in the second half Tuesday, he chipped in eight points as Central Missouri defeated Northwest Missouri State 60-59 in overtime to win the championship game of the NCAA II Central Region men's basketball tournament Tuesday and earn a berth in the Elite Eight.
"It felt great," Brunz said. "I was in foul trouble for the first two games, and finally I was able to make some plays I'm capable of making."
Brunz was a redshirt last season when Central Missouri came to the regional tournament and lost in the quarterfinals. Through two games this season, he had three points and five assists with nine fouls.
Sparked by a fan base of about 20 former West classmates, Brunz was able to give his team some momentum.
"It was just like high school all over," Brunz said. "It felt like I was home again. It's great to win the championship."
With Northwest Missouri (24-9) leading 26-22 at halftime, Brunz hit two 3-pointers as the Mules went up 30-28 after two minutes. He also hit a baseline jumper a few minutes later that put Central up 36-34.The game went into overtime, and Brunz had an assist that helped Central Missouri (27-5) take the lead. He eventually fouled out, but he had 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal, trying to guard Northwest's best player, Deshaun Cooper.
Central Missouri's Charles Hammork, the tournament MVP, had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Daylen Robinson scored 13 points, hitting the winning free throw with 2.4 seconds in the overtime. It was Central Missouri's third victory against Northwest Missouri this season.
Cooper finished with 24 points and six rebounds. Northwest Missouri lost starting center Dillon Starzl to an ankle injury after just four minutes.