With a scintillating second half shooting display that fueled an improbable comeback, Truman State's Mike Carlson helped ensure Northwest Missouri State of an extra home game it wanted no part of.
Carlson hit six second half three's and two big one's late to lead Truman State back from a 16-point deficit for a shocking 63-56 win over Northwest Missouri State in the regular season finale on Senior Day at Bearcat Arena.
Northwest (18-9, 11-7) would've clinched a bye in the first round of the MIAA Tournament with a win over the Bulldogs (10-16, 7-11) who entered in 11th place.
But the loss—which snapped a three-game win streak—coupled with Washburn beating Central Missouri later in the night dropped the Bearcats down to the fifth seed.
They'll host No. 12 seed Missouri Western in the first round tonight at 7 p.m., needing to win in order to get back to Kansas City.
"It hurts our approach," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Ben McCollum. "It hurts a ton because now you're going to play four games to be able win it. If you win this game and two games in the tourney, you may make a regional without winning that championship. Now, we have to win the championship. On top of that, we have to play four games. And on top of that, we have to play a team that plays all zone."
Northwest appeared well on its way to locking up the bye, up 30-16 at the half and 34-18 early in the second half.
Then out of nowhere, the game took a sharp turn in the other direction.
Previously feeble on offense, the Bulldogs outscored Northwest 45-22 in the final 16:51, with Carlson erupting for 24 of his season-high 29 points on 6-7 shooting from three.
This marked the first time all season Northwest has let go of a double-digit lead, although the Bearcats came close to doing so against Emporia State.
"We are shocked," said Northwest Missouri State junior center Dillon Starzl who guarded Carlson until very late in the game. "It's just a heartbreaker. We should've won that game. I think we just let up defensively. We thought we had this game won and they started hitting three's. We knew they could come back like that and that's what they did. They made shots."
The Bulldogs took their first lead of the game with 2:19 left and went in front for good on a step-back three from Carlson that made it 55-53 with 1:50 to play.
After Bryston Williams missed a shot from in close, Carlson nailed another rain-maker—his sixth of the half and seventh of the game—right over the top of Williams to make it 58-53 at the 1:11 mark.
Page 2 of 3 - "The last couple, they were on me, but they put shorter guys on me so I could just shoot over them," said Carlson, a 6-9 junior forward. "The last one, the guy was right there, but at that point, the basket was about this big."
The Bulldogs tacked on three free throws to lead 61-53 before the Bearcats made a last-ditch comeback bid.
DeAngelo Hailey cut the deficit to five with a three, and Williams forced a turnover on the inbounds to give Northwest the ball back with 21 seconds left.
Seeking to make it a one-possession game, Hailey attempted a corner three that rimmed out. Carlson skied for the rebound and made a pair of free throws with 16.4 seconds left that finished off the Bearcats.
"I really thought we earned that one," said Truman head coach Matt Woodley. "Beating a team like Northwest compared to other teams in our league where they'll kind of let you back in. I thought we really earned it tonight. That's the ultimate compliment to (coach McCollum's) program. He's done an unbelievable job here."
Held to just 16 first half points—the fewest in a half given up Northwest all season—Truman nearly tripled that in the second half, shooting 13-25 (52 percent) from the field, 7-9 from three and 14-16 at the foul line.
Nine of the Bulldogs 13 second half field goals were three's or three-point plays.
The Bulldogs also turned it over just twice in the second half after doing so 12 times in the first half, leading to only 13 shot attempts.
Carlson had six first half turnovers and only one shot attempt prior to his second half outburst.
His seven made three's were easily a new season-best, topping his old mark of three.
He added eight rebounds and was the only Bulldog to reach double-figures.
"I don't know if we should've switched up earlier in the game, but we just couldn't guard him," said Starzl.
Truman shot 47 percent for the game, made four more three's and seven more free throws than Northwest.
The Bearcats finished 20-51 (39.2 percent) and 5-22 (22.7 percent) from three.
Northwest missed 12 of 13 three's in the second half and senior Alex Sullivan went a miserable 0-10, one home game removed from tying the school record with eight three-pointers.
Hailey's 14 points led the Bearcats. Starzl scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Starzl's shot attempts were limited, in part of because of constant post double teams that forced him to get rid of the ball.
Sophomore point guard Matt Wallace added nine points, hitting two first half three's, and sophomore forward Grant Cozad had eight off the bench.
Page 3 of 3 - Hailey opened the game with back-to-back three's, staking Northwest to a 6-0 lead it never gave up until the final three minutes.
Northwest scored the first 11 points before Truman broke a 5:51 dryspell with a pair of free throws.
Its first of only five first half goals came shortly after.
Truman arrived at the final media timeout of the half with only nine points, and the locked-in Bearcats led by 11.
Three free throws in the final minute of the half by Williams and Wallace made it 30-16 at the half.
Northwest gained its largest lead of 16 points on a tip-in by Kyle Schlake with 17:57 left.
On the verge of being blown out, Truman got right back in the game with an 11-0 burst that included eight points and two three's from Carlson. His second one made it 34-29.
"They just out-worked us, out-executed us, out-toughed us and out-smarted us in the second half," said McCollum. "I could see it right out of halftime. It was like we can score and it was easy. We just stopped trying. It was unbelievable how complacent we got."
Back-to-back baskets from Starzl allowed Northwest to extend a five-point lead to nine.
Carlson answered with a three and another from reserve big man Patrick Burmester later on brought it back to five.
Seth Jackson's second spinning three-point play of the half got Truman with a point.
The Bulldogs tied it for the first time at 48 on a Carlson three with 3:40 left. Northwest held three more leads before Carlson daggered the Bearcats with his final two triples.
"We're an effort team. We're not a talent team," said McCollum. "When we try to be a talent team, we're not very good. Like we get beat by anyone. I'm very disappointed after how well we played in the first half that we played that poorly in the second half."
Northwest has little time to dwell on the disappointing finish to the regular season with Missouri Western returning to Bearcat Arena tonight for a must-win game.
Northwest and Western split the season series, with the Bearcats winning the most recent matchup 59-52 at Bearcat Arena Feb. 23.
The winner of this game takes on No. 4 seed Northeastern State Thursday at 2:15 p.m. in Kansas City.