LINCOLN — Luke Christen’s layup on an inbound play with four seconds remaining sent No. 7 Mullen into the Class D-2 finals with a 54-52 semifinal victory over No. 2 Riverside on Friday night at the Devaney Center.
With the score 52-52 and the Chargers in possession, Christen jumped a pass and forced a Riverside turnover. The Broncos brought the ball across half court and called a timeout with 5.8 seconds left to set up the deciding hoop.
Mullen guard Lance Moore, inbounding from the sideline, lofted a perfect pass to Christen on a back cut for the go-ahead basket.
“We screen across and set a back screen and they’re always trying to guard up on top and Luke just sneaks back behind them,” Mullen coach Rusty Moore said. “It was just a wide-open layup.”
Riverside called timeout, but had 3.6 seconds left to go the length of the court. The inbound pass was stolen at midcourt by Lance Moore, who heaved the ball high into the air as time expired as the Broncos celebrated the program’s first trip to a state final.
Lance Moore had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for Mullen (26-2), which will try to achieve another first when it plays in Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. championship game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Christen added 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
A Mullen victory looked like a long shot early. The Broncos fell behind 11-0 and committed nine first-quarter turnovers as Riverside raced to an 18-8 lead.
“The turnovers were crazy, but it was just hustle,” Rusty Moore said when asked how the Broncos got back into the game. “I preach to my kids: Everybody can play defense. Not everybody can shoot. Just keep hustling and good things will happen.”
Mullen cut its deficit to 31-26 at halftime and took its first lead at 36-35 on a Daniel Young putback with 4:41 left in the third. Riverside pulled back in front 46-43 with 6:30 to play on baskets by Noah Valasek and Tredyn Prososki, but the Broncos wouldn’t go away.
“We put it on cruise control,” Riverside coach Joe Imus said of his team losing its early lead. “We’ve done that a lot this year. Obviously, that was against some lesser opponents, but when you get up like that, sometimes you feel like you can do whatever you want.
“Mullen fought back and remained calm. That’s kind of what you have to do when you get in a hole like that.”
Valasek scored 19 points and Prososki had 17 points for the Chargers (24-4), who will play in the third-place game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln East. Both entered state averaging more than 20 points a game.
Mullen (26-2) 8 18 17 11—54
Riverside (24-4) 18 13 11 10—52
M: Brode McIntosh 9, Lance Moore 15, Daniel Young 7, Luke Christen 11, Joe Vinton 2, Tell Spies 2, Samuel Vinton 8.
R: Tredyn Prososki 17, Ty Martinsen 8, Riley Swerczek 8, Noah Valasek 19.