FORT WAYNE, Ind. — It's a game Mount Union players, fans, and alumni are sure to remember for the rest of their lives.
Now, the Purple Raiders sit just one win away from the ultimate prize.
Mount overcame a 20-point deficit Thursday night to defeat Wisconsin-Whitewater 83-79 in the national semifinals of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament. It was the first-ever Final Four trip for the Raiders, and now they will face Christopher Newport Saturday afternoon in Fort Wayne for the national championship.
RELATED: More sports coverage from WKYC
Things started out about as badly as they could have for Mount Union (30-2), which shot a paltry 29.3% from the field in the first half. By contrast, the Warhawks made 57.1% of their attempts, with Miles Barnstable's 14 points helping build a 13-point halftime lead.
However, the Purple Raiders would not go quietly.
Still trailing by double digits well into the second half, Mount suddenly caught fire, aided by a strong rebounding game and a suddenly stifling defense. The offense also began to make shots and slowly close the game, and with 7:55 remaining, Collen Gurley gave the Raiders their first lead on a put-back layup.
Things would remain close the rest of the way, but Gurley would wind up giving Mount Union the lead for good on a jumper in the paint with 6:20 left. The Akron native finished the night with 15 points and six boards, while Ohio Athletic Conference Player of the Year Christian Parker scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half.
Whitewater (25-8) struggled to even get a chance to tie it down the stretch, especially after the Purple Raiders made 13 of their last 15 free-throw tries. In addition, while Barnstable, Carter Capstran, and Trevon Chisholm each scored 17 points for the Warhawks, the trio combined for just 16 over the final 20 minutes.
Mount also dominated on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 50-39 and tallying 24 second-chance points off 24 offensive boards. Braedon Poole led the Raiders with 12 rebounds, with Parker adding 11.
Prior to this season, Mount Union had never advanced past the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, but now finds itself on the cusp of its first national title. The Purple Raiders' final opponent, Christopher Newport, sports a 29-3 record and entered the tourney ranked No. 2 in the country (just ahead of Mount at No. 3). Jahn Hines leads the Captains with 17.2 points per game, while Trey Barber averages 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per contest.
Tipoff is set for Saturday at 4 p.m. from Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.