By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
WARRENSBURG, MO. — Central Missouri is a program that’s used to getting into the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament, having made that trip 20 times in program history.
But last year, the Mules missed the tournament, motivating the current roster to get back to the final 64.
“We just need to leave it all on the floor,” senior forward Dominique Long said. “The next loss, you’re done.”
Fourth-seeded Central Missouri (22-7) faces Harding (21-9) in the final quarterfinal Saturday, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. at Bresnan Arena. The Mules got a little momentum by winning the MId-America Athletic Association tournament in overtime against Northwest Missouri on Sunday.
“The last three years, we’ve lost in the first round of the conference tournament,” coach Kim Anderson said. “I think we’ve gotten better as we’ve become more balanced, and the players have done a better job of accepting their roles.”
Long is the only player on the Central Missouri roster to play in all 29 games. The 6-foot-6 senior forward averages 15.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, and he’s shooting 40.3 percent on 3-pointers.
“He’s got great range on his 3-point shot, but he can also go inside,” coach Kim Anderson said. “He’s not a big, strong guy, but he’s a tough matchup.”
Senior point guard Widgett Washington is averaging 12.1 points and 5.1 assists, and 6-6 junior forward Charles Hammork is averaging 11.9 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“We have a lot of people who can get up and down the floor,” Long said. “We like a fast-paced game, but we also need to focus on defense.”
The Mules, who were 13-0 at home this season but 9-7 on the road or at neutral courts, average 78.2 points but allow 70.0 points, most in the tournament.
“We pride ourselves on being a good defensive team, but this team has played sporadic defense,” Anderson said. “I think we have to play better defensively for us to be successful.”
Nine different players have started a game for the Mules this season, with a solid mix of perimeter players and posts. The versatility allows Central Missouri to match up with just about any opponent.
“We’re a good 3-point shooting team, not a great one,” Anderson said. “We try to take good shots, but we need to have a balance of inside-out scoring. We need to get some offensive rebounds so we can get some easy baskets, and we need to be very aggressive on defense.”