POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. -- The St. Ambrose plan for a long run in the 2012 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship came to a screeching halt on Wednesday in the Fighting Bees' tournament opener.|
Despite leading for all but 31 seconds of regulation, the Bees' tournament hopes were done in by two 3-pointers from Marian's Alex Sylvester as the Knights hit one timely shot late to force overtime and then controlled the extra session en route to a 75-72 victory over the 16th-seeded Bees.
It was a bitter end for the Bees, who brought a 15-game win streak with them into Keeter Gymnasium at the College of the Ozarks.
"It's unfortunate,'' said SAU coach Ray Shovlain of the outcome. "It's an unfortunate end to the season. We did not play overly well, but we still thought we were the better team.''
Instead of a spot in the Sweet 16, SAU's season – which included the regular-season Midwest Collegiate Conference crown and MCC Tournament title – ended at 25-9.
It also brought to an end the stellar SAU careers of Mike Kennedy and Chris Donnelly. Kennedy, an NAIA All-American as a junior, finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds, capping his career with 2,266 points – third all-time in school history. Donnelly, who was injured in the second half, but returned to the court, added 18 points. Davenport's Marquez Davis, who joined the team for his final semester of eligibility, added 10 points and 6 rebounds.
Seniors Nate Thomas (broken hand), Sean O'Reilly and P.J. Murphy also added to that cause over the years, but did not see action Wednesday.
"The seniors we had on this team are a great group of young men and will be missed,'' said Shovlain. "I need to thank them for helping get us bounce back to where we need to be.''
It was SAU's first trip to nationals since 2005 and they had their sights set on more than one-and-done.
Things were looking good for the Bees much of the game. They led from Kennedy's opening bucket just 13 seconds into the game all the way until Marian's Jake Stafford scored in the paint with 10:30 left in the game for a 49-48 Knights lead. That advantage lasted all of 16 seconds until Donnelly answered with a 3-pointer at the other end.
SAU then tried to nurse that lead all the way to the finish. It was looking good for the Bees when Moline's Justin Blondell (12 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) hit two free throws with :11 remaining that put the Bees up 63-60.
After a Marian timeout, things went bad for the Bees.
"Up three, we told our guys to foul so they couldn't get a 3 off, but we never could get the whistle,'' said Shovlain.
And when that didn't happen, Sylvester, who had yet to hit from behind the 3-point arc in the game, somehow launched a shot with Blondell draped all over him that knotted the score with :01.9 left in regulation.
Donnelly's baseball pass deep connected with Kennedy, but his shot at the buzzer was off the mark.
In the overtime, Marian's Aaron Evans (21 points) hit a jumper and Sylvester (16 points, 13 rebounds) drilled another triple as the Knights (20-10) took control and never lost the lead. SAU climbed to within two twice in the OT, but never could tie it or grab the lead.
SAU had some success pounding the ball into the paint early in the game. But when the Knights packed things down deep and held Kennedy to just five points after halftime, SAU struggled. The Bees were just 3 of 24 from the 3-point line as part of a 30-of-66 night from the field.
"They were sending two or three guys in there and jammed things up,'' said Shovlain, who watched his shooters then get tentative. "We had nowhere to go. But then we had guys open at the top of the key who didn't shoot when there weren't guys within five feet of us.''
The shorter Knights also outrebounded the bulkier Bees by a whopping 41-26 margin.
And, as Shovlain said, that made for an unfortunate finish to the season for the Bees.
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