It would have been easy for St. Ambrose basketball players to point to a 41-5 differential in free throw attempts as the reason Wednesday’s game against Roosevelt slipped away.
But, it wouldn’t have told the entire story.
"The free throw difference didn’t help, but we didn’t do the things we needed to do down the stretch to hold on for the win," Fighting Bees center Greg Wagner said after the Lakers rallied for a 59-52 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference win at Lee Lohman Arena.
"As they came back, when it got close, we took a few quick shots, got a little too anxious. That came back to get us. Our overall effort and execution the last five minutes wasn’t what it needed to be."
In a bizarre game that saw Roosevelt fall behind 19-4 early, trail at halftime 35-25 and eventually overcome a pair of 13-point deficits in the second half, neither team scored a field goal in the final 6 minutes, 6 seconds.
That final field goal, a follow-up by the Lakers’ Adam Alexander, gave Roosevelt a 51-50 lead it wouldn’t relinquish, and it answered the Bees’ final basket, a shot by Jalen Jones that had given St. Ambrose a 50-49 advantage with 6:45 to play.
Jones’ score was one of three field goals the Fighting Bees hit after a basket by Wagner pushed St. Ambrose in front 44-32 with 14:22 remaining.
Both teams counted just seven field goals in the second half, but while the Bees missed field goals and committed some costly turnovers, the Lakers were cashing in at the free throw line — repeatedly.
After connecting on 9-of-17 attempts at the stripe in the first half, Roosevelt hit on 18-of-24 fouls shots over the final 20 minutes.
In a match-up between two teams playing man-to-man defense, St. Ambrose didn’t get to the line in the second half until Jake Meeske stepped up and hit a pair with :25 remaining to cut into a 56-50 deficit and finish off the Bees’ 4-of-5 effort.
In the 35 years he has coached at St. Ambrose, Ray Shovlain couldn’t recall a free throw differential anywhere close to the 36 more attempts that led the Lakers to a 27-4 edge at the line against a Bees team that scored eight more field goals than its opponent.
"It was a strange game," Shovlain said.
Ultimately, St. Ambrose (12-13, 6-9 CCAC) was unable to sustain the quick start it wanted against the second-place team in the CCAC.
"We did a lot of good things early on, but down the stretch, we couldn’t score. We got stuck on 50 forever," Shovlain said.
John Kerr and Meeske led St. Ambrose, finishing with 12 and 11 points respectively, while Joshua Dillingham led Roosevelt (21-4, 12-3) with 16 points and 13 rebounds.