SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - NABC National Player of the Year Justin Pitts scored a game-high 30 points to lead Northwest Missouri State to a 79-67 win over the Railsplitters in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Elite Eight on Thursday night, March 23 at Sanford Pentagon. The Bearcats (34-1) advance to Saturday's National Championship game, where they will face Fairmont State, while Lincoln Memorial ends another dream season with a 30-6 overall record. The Railsplitters, who were in the national semifinals for the second consecutive season, fell into a 10-point hole right from the jump, but stormed back to take as large as a six-point lead early in the second half. However, the No. 1 nationally-ranked Bearcats took the lead for good with 13 minutes left, and used a late 8-0 run to put Lincoln Memorial away. "They made a lot of big-time plays in the second half in particular and played about as clean as you can play," LMU head coach Josh Schertz said. "They did a great job defensively, rebounding, you name it, they were terrific, and very deserving to play in the National Championship." The odds were stacked heavily against the Railsplitters well before the opening tip, as a huge portion of the more than 1,500 fans in attendance were there in support of Northwest Missouri State, whose campus is just four and a half hours south of Sioux Falls. In addition to that, the already short-handed Railsplitters battled foul trouble throughout the contest. Despite that, Lincoln Memorial rallied back from an early 10-point deficit in the face of a raucous crowd while forcing five ties and 14 lead changes throughout the game. It mirrored the season as a whole, as the Railsplitters overcame a world of adversity and gave themselves a chance to win. Unfortunately, this time around LMU just couldn't come up with the plays late to extend another magical postseason run. "I'm incredibly proud of my guys. We've had a great journey," Schertz said. "It's been a rough and tough road. We played through innumerable injuries. When you finish the season, you want to finish it empty. It's a silly notion that if don't win it all, you're a loser or whatever the case may be. In that locker room, we have a lot of winners and a lot of guys that lay it on the line." The Railsplitters turned the ball over eight times and allowed seven offensive rebounds, which led to seven second-chance points, in the first half alone, but converted 13 of their 21 field-goal attempts for a 61.9 percent clip, matching the highest first-half field-goal percentage allowed by Northwest Missouri State this season. That helped Lincoln Memorial take a 33-32 lead into the break. The Bearcats turned the tide in the second half, going 17-for-26 (65.4 percent) from the field over the final 20 minutes while limiting the Railsplitters to 13-for-29 shooting (44.8 percent) over that same span. Northwest Missouri State outscored LMU 47-34 in the second half, including a 31-18 edge over the final 13 minutes. "Their defense really gave us trouble," Schertz said of the Bearcats' No. 2 nationally-ranked scoring defense. "We had trouble getting by them on the bounce and had trouble on the pick-and-roll. In the second half, we didn't move the ball as well as we had. We got a little stagnant and isolation oriented." In the final game of his career, Luquon Choice (pictured) led the Railsplitters with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and a block. The Laurens, S.C. native ends his illustrious career in the Blue and Gray ranked third in program history in scoring with 2,039 career points. "It's been a great five years and I'm glad I came here," Choice said. "It's been a great experience playing with Coach Schertz." Chris Perry -- one of four seniors for the Railsplitters -- finished off his one and only season with the Railsplitters with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go with a game-high 11 rebounds. The University of South Florida transfer completed the season with 643 total points and 304 rebounds, which rank No. 10 and 11, respectively, in the program's single-season history. "This is the best year of my life, honestly," Perry said. "Coach Schertz took a chance on me and gave me a second chance. I'm forever grateful for that. Winning is an unbelievable feeling and I'm just glad I got a taste of it before I ended my college career. I thank Coach Schertz and the whole LMU organization." Trevon Shaw added 13 points over 39 minutes of work, while Deshawn Patterson produced 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench. The loss also closes the curtain on the careers of redshirt-seniors Paul Woodson and Hunter Spaw, who along with Choice leave Lincoln Memorial as the program's all-time winningest players with 122 victories, four South Atlantic Conference regular-season titles, two Southeast Region championship, two appearances in the national semifinals and a trip to the National Championship game.
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