EDITOR’S NOTE: With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down March Madness, we’ll review the final three games of Missouri Southern’s postseason run in 2000 and all the madness there was.
Eddin Santiago’s all-around performance earned him the most valuable player honor, and Carlos Escalera’s scoring earned him a spot on the all-tournament team.
But the play of backup center Adam Babcock played just as big of a role in Missouri Southern’s 92-83 victory over Midwestern State in the championship game of the NCAA Division II South Central Region at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Midwestern State (27-7) had several transfers from Division I schools and was led by a strong front court that saw three players finish in double figures. To make matters worse, Missouri Southern starting center Osiris Ricardo picked up two fouls in the first six minutes and went to the bench.
Babcock entered and played his most extended minutes of the season. He usually played in about three-minute spurts, but against Midwestern State, Babcock scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor and 1-of-3 at the foul line and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds in a season-high 23 minutes.
He averaged 3.8 points and 3.0 rebounds for the season.
“My role is to come in and back up Osiris and play good defense,” Babcock said after the game. “Everybody knows his role, what we’re supposed to do. If we step out of line, we have three coaches (Robert Corn and assistants Chris Lowery and Paul Lusk) there to remind us. Everybody on this team fills their role perfectly.”
“Adam came in and picked us up,” Corn said this week. “He had one of his better games of the year.
“That was the story of the whole season. When somebody was off or somebody got in foul trouble, someone off the bench came in and gave us a huge lift. There were games when our bench was the difference in the ball game.”
While Babcock provided a boost inside, Santiago did just about everything else as the point guard. His final numbers on a full stat line: 14 points, six rebounds, nine assists, seven steals and only one turnover in 29 minutes.
One of Santiago’s steals in the second half made him the Lions’ career leader and set up a two-handed dunk by Escalera.
“Guaya is the general,” Corn said after the game. “He’s the guy who runs the show for us. How many teams have their all-time career assist leader, their all-time steals leader, and he hasn’t even finished his sophomore year. That tells you what kind of young man he is.”
Escalera led the Lions with 27 points, 10 above his team-leading average. Two seniors also reached double figures as Carlos Newberry scored 13, including 11 in the first half as the Lions took a 39-31 lead, and Ricardo had 12, all in the second half.
“I remember playing a great team in Midwestern State,” Santiago said this week, “but the way we were playing at home with our crowd made us almost invincible at the Leggett & Platt.”
A near-capacity crowd of 3,200 saw the Lions complete a perfect season at home and cut down the nets for the third time to go with their MIAA regular season and postseason tournament crowns.
“Everything was perfect timing,” Corn said. “We opened the Leggett & Platt, we were undefeated at home. Once we got into conference play, Leggett & Platt was pretty full about every game. At the end, it was packed every night. I remember coming out to the court, I had to get through people just to get to the court, which was a nice feeling.”
The Lions (29-2) won their first regional crown since joining Division II 11 years earlier and advanced to the Elite Eight in Louisville, Kentucky. Up next is a game against No. 1-ranked Florida Southern.
MSSU’s 2000postseason run
At Missouri Southern
MSSU 77, Emporia State 60
MSSU 96, Pittsburg State 85
MSSU 90, Northwest Missouri 79 (1st)
South Central Regional
At Missouri Southern
MSSU 79, Washburn 73, OT
MSSU 92, Midwestern State 83 (1st)
At Louisville, Ky.
MSSU 76, Florida Southern 65
Metro State 75, MSSU 74