PELLA — The Central College men’s basketball team led for more than 37 minutes of Thursday’s Iowa Conference semifinal and held on for an 86-84 win over Buena Vista inside a rowdy P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium, advancing to Saturday’s league championship game.
The No. 1-seeded Dutch (19-7 overall) will play host to No. 6-seeded Luther College (17-10 overall) at 7 p.m. with an automatic berth into the 61-team NCAA Division III tournament field on the line.
The Norse continued their Cinderella run through the league tournament with an 87-83 upset of No. 2-seeded Dubuque on its home floor.
It’s Central’s second trip to the league championship game since 1999, the tournament’s inaugural season. Central’s only other appearance came in 2010, its most recent championship season, in a 99-79 win over Buena Vista.
Battling inside Kuyper Gym for the second time in two weeks, the Dutch and the No. 4-seeded Beavers (14-13 overall) exchanged timely 3-pointers and clutch plays, but Central held on for the two-point victory.
“I’m proud of our team,” coach Craig Douma said. “We showed a lot of resiliency tonight. We made a run, they made a run, but in the end we came up with some big offensive plays down the stretch. We beat a really good team a third time.”
Senior forward Matt Greenfield had a game-high 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Dutch. Freshman Colby Taylor of Creston had 13 points, shooting 5-of-6 from the field — 3-of-4 from long distance — and an emphatic breakaway dunk.
Senior center Spencer Bakerink of Creston had four points and four rebounds in 17 minutes, shooting 2-of-3 from the field.
Freshman guard Sam Markham of Atlantic played six minutes in the first half and scored five points on 2-of-2 shooting with a rebound and one assist.
Buena Vista guard Cole Darrow of Glenwood left the game with an apparent ankle injury midway through the first half. Guard Nick Clark of Fort Dodge St. Edmond led the Beavers with 27 points.