POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. -- Despite 18 second half point from senior guard Antonio Murrell, Indiana Wesleyan University lost 79-70 in a hotly contested NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship Elite Eight contest against host College of the Ozarks (Mo.).
The excellent season closely mirrors the Wildcats' 2007 season with a Mid-Central College Conference regular season championship, MCC Tournament runner-up and Elite Eight appearance. The 2009 campaign ends with the second most wins in school history at 29 as the 2007 team holds the record with 30.
After victories in the national tournament over Trinity Christian (Ill.) College and Evergreen State (Wash.) College, Indiana Wesleyan met another unseeded opponent in Ozarks, host of the tournament.
Keeter Gymnasium was loud and boisterous for the national quarterfinal contest as the Bobcats raced out to a quick 5-0 lead. IWU junior guard Spencer Harris scored the game's next six points on a 3-point bucket and an old-fashion 3-point play for a 6-5 IWU advantage.
Neither team was able to separate from their opponent as the lead never grew more than five points until late in the half. In the final minutes, Ozarks was the recipient of home-cooking with friendly baskets as the shot clock expired.
The first basket to beat the shot clock got a nice bounce high off the backboard after Ozarks' senior guard Cory Stone shot from an off-balanced position to give C of O a 30-26 lead with 2:57 on the clock. Shortly thereafter, Ozarks junior guard Drew Ray threw up a one-handed prayer as the shot clock was down to one and banked it in to give C of O their largest lead at 38-30 with 1:07 before half.
Ozarks led by six and had possession of the ball for the final shot in the half. A turnover by freshman guard Dustin Price resulted in buzzer-beater for Indiana Wesleyan as Murrell cut the halftime deficit to 38-35.
The start of the second half is when Murrell took over.
Indiana Wesleyan (29-7) gave the ball to their senior and he promptly scored 11 of the first 12 Wildcat points on 5-of-6 shooting over the first six minutes of the second half. His final basket of the stretch at 13:41 brought IWU to within two points at 51-49.
Murrell also found open teammates as he assisted junior forward Zach Coverstone with 11:51 left to knot the score at 51-51.
Indiana Wesleyan took a 54-53 advantage on a 3-point bomb by senior guard Jon Moon. But much like the opening half, neither team could separate as the teams traded baskets for the next four minutes.
Ozarks (22-10) captured a 63-60 lead as senior guard Colt Blair scored a basket plus one as 4:17 remained. The three point lead was the first lead of three or more points since Ozarks led 51-47 with 13:58 on the clock.
Following an Indiana Wesleyan turnover, Ozarks converted to extend the lead to 65-60.
A pair of Murrell free throws with 2:32 remaining brought the Wildcats to within a pair at 65-63, but sophomore guard Jared Howerton scored down low for Ozarks to increase the lead back to four.
Coverstone converted one of two free throws to make it a one possession game at 67-64. But once again the Bobcats responded as Ray hit a 3-point dagger with just over a minute in the game to lead 70-64.
Indiana Wesleyan's next possession came up empty and IWU was forced to foul. Ozarks connected on seven of their eight free throws over the final minute to secure a berth in the Final Four.
Murrell ends his Wildcat career with a 23 point performance on 9-of-16 shooting. Fellow senior guard Jon Moon was 3-of-6 from deep for nine points while senior forward Landon Adler added five points and seven boards.
IWU junior forward Zach Coverstone finished the evening with 15 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots.
Ozarks was led by Stone with 25 points and Ray with 16. As a team, the Bobcats shot 57.1-percent (28 of 49) and 53.3-percent (8 of 15) from beyond the arc.