POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. — Until the bitter end of a 75-72 overtime loss Wednesday, Ray Shovlain believed his St. Ambrose basketball team would find a way to win in the NAIA Division II national tourney.
“We didn’t play our best, but we’ve found ways to eke out games like this all season. We just didn’t get this one. The timing, it’s unfortunate,” Shovlain said shortly after Marian ended the 15th-ranked Fighting Bees’ 15-game win streak in the opening round of the 32-team tourney at Keeter Gym.
St. Ambrose had the final shot, but Chris Donnelly’s 3-point attempt to send the game into a second overtime missed. It capped a frustrating 3-for-24 effort from behind the arc for the Midwest Collegiate Conference champions.
“When we’ve been at our best, we’ve been able to score inside and out, and we never got it going from 3. That allowed them to jam things up a bit inside, and that made it difficult,” Shovlain said.
The outside shooting and a 41-26 deficit on the boards combined to lead the Bees to their first loss since Jan. 11.
“We didn’t get the offensive rebounds that we’ve been getting all year, and that, along with the outside shooting, came back to bite us,” Shovlain said. “We had a couple of situations where we were up seven, nine points and we’d rush a possession, take a quick shot instead of working the offense, and that kept them close enough to come back.”
Despite 0-for-9 shooting from 3-point range in the first half, the Bees built an early 10-point lead before Marian fought their way back, pulling within 37-33 by halftime and never letting St. Ambrose build more than a pair of nine-point leads in the second half.
Still, St. Ambrose was in a position to win the game in regulation before the Knights’ Alex Sylvester hit his first 3-pointer of the contest with 1 second left, tying the game at 63-63.
The basket erased the remnants of a Bees’ lead which stood at 61-54 when Justin Blondell knocked down a shot with 3 minutes, 58 seconds to play.
A pair of free throws by Blondell with :11 remaining in the second half were the only other points St. Ambrose scored as Marian (20-10) rallied to forge the tie.
“The plan was to foul them at the end of regulation and put them at the line, but we didn’t get that done. It was one of those days,” Shovlain said.
The Knights, who had just one one-point lead of 16 seconds in regulation, used a basket by Aaron Evans and another 3-pointer by Sylvester to open a 68-63 lead with 3:07 left in overtime.
Baskets by Donnelly pulled St. Ambrose (25-9) within two points twice in the final 1:15 of the extra period, but Marian used a basket by Jake Stafford and a free throw by Sylvester with 19 seconds left to advance.
“It’s unfortunate it ended this way for us,” Shovlain said. “Our seniors brought this program back to where it belongs, and I felt we were ready for a deep run. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
Mike Kennedy led the Fighting Bees in scoring for the 18th time this season, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds. Donnelly contributed 18 points, while Evans scored 16 of his game-high 21 points after halftime to spark the Knights to the come-from-behind win.