EDITOR'S NOTE: Even 20 years later, the matchup between Missouri Southern and Metro State in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight semifinals is unforgettable for many reasons.
No. 5 Missouri Southern and No. 3 Metro State produced an instant classic in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Elite Eight on March 23, 2000, in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Lions led 40-34 at halftime as Leo Gomes hit a buzzer-beating bucket. While Gomes released the ball from near the foul line, he left the floor from beyond the 3-point arc, so the basket should have been worth 3 points instead of the 2 that were awarded.
Remember that point.
Metro State, located in Denver, hurt the Lions in the second half with its big men driving down the lane for baskets, and the Roadrunners held a 64-56 lead with six minutes left.
But Missouri Southern's Carlos Escalera tallied 10 of his game-high 19 points down the stretch, including a 3-pointer from the left corner for a 74-74 deadlock with 52 seconds left.
"It was back and forth, two really good teams competing hard," Lions coach Robert Corn said this week. "Neither team could really get any type of separation. It came down to the very end, an unfortunate ending for us."
"I don't even remember the game," point guard Eddin Santiago said. "Just the ending ... the last play."
After Escalera's game-tying trey, the Lions came up with a defensive stop and had two shots to grab the lead in the final 10 seconds. They got the ball to center Osiris Ricardo, who had 16 points and nine rebounds, near the left block, but his shot rolled off the rim. Guard Terry Shumpert (17 points) rebounded along the left baseline, but his six-footer was blocked, and the ball bounded toward the free-throw line.
There was contact on the shots by Ricardo and Shumpert, but the baseline official swallowed his whistle. At the top of the circle, Escalera and Metro State's Shane Ah Matt collided as they dove for the basketball, and the center official called a foul on Escalera with 1.5 seconds left.
Ah Matt made the front end of the 1-and-1 free throw, missed the second, and Blake Bard's heave from 75 feet was unsuccessful, giving Metro State a 75-74 victory.
"I still hate how it ended," said assistant coach Chris Lowery, who is now an assistant at Kansas State. "It's one of those deals that (near) our goal, you probably don't decide a game on two guys diving on the floor. ... And the funny thing about it is that guy is a good ref now. He's a national guy. I've talked to him, but I never brought it up.
"And I remember after the game — which made it even worse — Terry Shumpert crying and saying 'Coach, they took it from us.' That's always stuck with me because you want (the players) to decide it. You want a person to miss it or make it to decide the game. ... I think that's the only game I've been involved in that was decided by two kids diving on the floor. Everybody was in shock. We didn't know who the foul was on; neither did they. We all kind of looked around like what just happened."
At the postgame press conference, the first question to Corn concerned the loose-ball foul.
"Obviously the official thought there was a foul," Corn replied. "I think any comments you make about the officials are out of line at this time ... 10 minutes after an emotional basketball game.
"The officials did not beat us in this basketball game. Metro State beat us in this basketball game. One thing that we have always said at Missouri Southern is we are not making any excuses, and we are not making any excuses right now."
The class exhibited by Corn after the gut-wrenching loss resonated with his players.
"I remember Coach Corn's postgame press conference ... we didn't blame the refs, we didn't make excuses," Carlos Newberry said. "I still live by that motto today."
Metro State (32-4) won its other four NCAA Tournament games by an average of 18.5 points, including a 97-79 romp over No. 2 Kentucky Wesleyan in the championship game.
"That was such a crushing blow," Lowery said. "That was a national championship team. ... We knew what Metro did to Kentucky Wesleyan, we were going to do the same thing. That's just how we felt.
"I think about it all the time," Lowery said. "Every time you get on Facebook, you see somebody who was a part of that. That was a team that was so dominant, the regret level is so high. Nobody outside Missouri Southern and our fan base remembers that Missouri Southern went to the Final Four. But Metro is forever ingrained in the record books. That's what bothers you with our team, that we were that good to win it all."
The Lions' 1999-2000 men's basketball team finished 30-3 — best in school history — and was special in many ways.
"I feel the same way today as I did 20 years ago, very fortunate to get the opportunity to play with that group of guys and be coached by that trio of coaches," Bard said. "I know very few in the community and throughout the country realized what was coming together for us, and I can speak for the rest of the guys when I say I'm not sure we even realized just how good we were with all the pieces we had.
"It was a very unique experience, especially considering the backgrounds and diversity, for a collection of guys with very high skill and athleticism to all buy in and commit to just being a team and not individuals. We still talk about our practices and how intense and competitive they were. We joke about how the best two teams in the MIAA — and perhaps the country — that year were our starting five and our second five off the bench. ... A lot of credit to Coach Corn, Coach Lowery and Coach (Paul) Lusk to be able to bring the cast together like they did. It's a memory etched into all of our hearts that will remain forever."
"The thing I believe set our '99-00 team apart from the majority of teams is the way we worked together," Brad Mann said. "We had a lot of different personalities, people from different backgrounds. However, we believed in each other and the goals that had been set before us.
"Of course, a team is only as good as its leader. Coach Corn was someone who challenged, encouraged and held us accountable. He always set the tone and direction for our team. He believed so much in the talent we had as a team that he helped us see it more clearly, I'm not sure we had the most talented team to ever play, although we were very talented. However, I did believe we may have had the best mix of unselfish guys who knew their role, willingly played it and played it well.
"Louisville was definitely a special achievement for our team. I believe we had the best team in the country that season. We just didn't get the outcome we desired. It was a painful experience to lose the way we did. However, it is an event that I believe has set each member of our team up for success in life. We learned to face adversity (and) persevere through it, which helped build character and gave us hope for all future challenges we might face."
MSSU’s 2000 postseason 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
Adam Babcock, 6-7, 225, jr., Springfield, Mo.
Blake Bard, 6-3, 190, so., Webb City, Mo.
Pieterbas DeWildt, 6-10, 235, so., Biddinghuesen, The Netherlands
Carlos Escalera, 6-3, 180, so., Carolina, Puerto Rico
Leo Gomes, 6-4, 212, jr., Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brad Mann, 6-7, 225, sr., Riverton, Kan.
Carlos Newberry, 6-5, 2-5, sr. Memphis Tenn.
David Ragland, 5-11, 165, fr., Evansville, Ind.
Osiris Ricardo, 6-10, 265, sr., Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Eddin Santiago, 6-1, 163, so., Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Terry Shumpert, 6-2, 170, so., Paducah, Ky.
Head Coach: Robert Corn
Assistant Coaches: Chris Lowery, Paul Lusk