PELLA, Iowa – Elijah Knox scored a career-high 30 points and the Simpson men's basketball team qualified for the Iowa Conference Tournament in the last game of the regular season by beating Central 73-69 on Saturday.
Austin Hennings drew a charging foul on Branden Stubbs in the final seconds and Knox put the game away with a pair of clutch free throws as Simpson snuck into the tournament, qualifying for the third year in a row.
Simpson will travel to third-seeded Dubuque for the first round on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
Simpson needed outside help to earn the sixth seed, and got it from Dubuque. The Spartans beat Loras 67-52, creating a three-way tie for sixth between Simpson, Central and Loras. Simpson advanced thanks to a 3-1 record against the teams involved in the tie.
Knox went 11-for-15 from the field and scored 17 in the second half as the Storm (7-18, 3-11 Iowa Conference) snapped a six-game losing streak. Charles Swain added 16 points and AJ Arrington came off the bench to score 11, including nine in the second half.
Nick Marinkovich had 21 points on 5 of 10 shooting from beyond the arc for the Dutch (10-14, 3-11), who would have qualified for the postseason with a win.
Simpson led by as many as 16 in the second half and held a 57-43 lead after a layup by Arrington with 9 minutes, 34 seconds left in the game.
The Dutch came back, though, as Marinkovich made three 3-pointers in a row as part of a 19-8 Central run that cut the lead to 65-62 with 2:15 left.
Knox gave Simpson a 70-64 lead when he made 1 of 2 at the free throw line with 31 seconds left before KJ Cool converted a three-point play. After a five-second call on the ensuing inbound, Branden Stubbs drew a foul on Knox and hit both free throws to cut Simpson's lead to one, 70-69.
Olu Rotibi split a pair of free throw attempts on the next possession, giving Central the ball with 10 seconds left and a chance to tie the game.
Stubbs drove down the right side of the lane but Hennings stepped in front and drew the charge, allowing Knox to close it out at the free throw line.