OT loss sinks Saint Mary men in conference tournament opener

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

After dominating the conference’s regular season schedule, the Saint Mary men’s basketball team had aspirations of pairing a KCAC tournament title with its league crown.

Yet, that dream melted quicker than the ice outside Friday when the Spires suffered a 91-82 overtime loss to visiting McPherson.

“The difference was them making plays and us not,” USM coach Jon Bishop said. “We didn't get a 50-50 ball all night. They looked like a team that was playing for their lives. Their effort was so much better than ours it's not even describable.”

Not all is lost. With its Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season championship, the team will receive an automatic bid into the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament.

That starts on March 6. But even with that knowledge, the sting of leaving unfinished business behind will linger.

“I was just disappointed that we tightened up,” Bishop said. “We didn't handle adversity. We didn't handle the moment. Bottom line, McPherson was a better team tonight.”

The game itself was nip and tuck throughout. Neither team pulled away and the visitors actually held a six-point advantage as late as four minutes left in regulation.

Big shots from Kevin Harvey and Jordan Wilcox erased that deficit, though, yet still the home team could not knock out McPherson. With 14 seconds left, the Bulldogs hit a game-tying 3-pointer to push the contest into overtime.

In that extra period, the visitors simply made more clutch plays than USM, including eight straight free throws in the final minute to ice the win.

“There has been times this year when we guarded the 3-point line very poorly and I don't think we can doing any worse than we did tonight,” Bishop said. “We gave up 53 percent from the 3-point line and 52-percent from the field and you can't do that and win.”

Saint Mary, 22-8 overall, will find out its seeding for the national tournament early next week.