Lead by Pelican Rapids graduate and basketball standout Ryan Bruggeman, Southwest Minnesota State rallied from a nine-point deficit with less than nine minutes remaining in the game to earn a 74-70 victory over No. 3 seed East Central University (Okla.) in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament March 12 at Bearcat Arena on the campus of Northwest Missouri State University.

SMSU, which tied a school record for victories in a season, improves to 28-5 overall and will play in the region championship game and a berth into the NCAA Elite Eight on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. SMSU won region championships in both 2001 and 2009. SMSU will play either No. 1 seed Northwest Missouri State or No. 5 seed Augustana.

Bruggeman led the Mustangs with 29 points, while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists. He made nine of 16 from the field and 10 of 12 from the free throw line.

Bruggeman scored 20 points in the first half alone.

SMSU finished the game shooting 43 percent (26 of 60) from the field and made five of 16 3-pointers. ECU shot 39 percent (25 of 64), while making eight of 18 from 3-point land.

ECU maintained the lead for a majority of the second half.

SMSU took the lead for good with 2:30 remaining with two more free throws to make the score 66-64.

The score remained 66-64 until 1:01 remaining when ECU’s Reeves picked up a technical foul following a missed jumper. Schafer made one free throw to give the Mustangs a 67-64 lead. Weg would then make two free throws with 42 seconds left on the ensuing possession to push the lead to 69-64.

ECU answered with a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left, before Bruggeman countered making one of two free throws to make the score 70-67. Following a timeout by ECU, the SMSU defense forced a turnovers with 10 seconds left and Bruggeman was able to seal the game with two more free throws with six second remaining in the game.

Bruggeman  was named first team All-NSIC, while SMSU head coach Brad Bigler was named the NSIC Coach of the Year.

Bruggeman, a 6-foot, 177-pounds,   lead SMSU in scoring (13.8), assists (132), steals (38) and free throws made (99). Bruggeman’s assist total ranks as the second highest in team single-season history, while his 4.7 assists per game ranks third  in team history.

In the final NSIC stats (conference games only), Bruggeman finished fourth in the league in assists (4.5), fourth in free throw pct. (.843), fifth in steals (1.4), 11th in assist/turnover ratio (2.2) and 20th in scoring (15.0).