The Oglethorpe men's basketball team went blow for blow Saturday afternoon with a Centre team that had beaten them by over 20 points twice during the regular season. In the end, though, it was the top-seeded Colonels who advanced to the SAA championship game with a 75-72 win over the fourth-seeded Stormy Petrels at the SAA Tournament semifinals in Danville, Kentucky.
The Petrels led for much of the first half and, though they fell behind early in the second period, rebuilt a tenuous lead with under seven minutes to go in the contest. Centre tied the score at 62-62 with 6:45 left, then built a 66-62 lead with 5:35 remaining to top off a 7-0 run by the home side. The Colonels pushed their lead to 71-66 with a 3-pointer at the 3:45 mark, but the Petrels answered with back-to-back layups from sophomore guard Lane Foster and senior center Tom Inungu. That cut the Centre lead to just 71-70 with 1:55 to go. Back-to-back Centre free throws extended their lead back out to 73-70, but the Petrels remained within one possession. Oglethorpe missed several chances to draw closer, but freshman guard Ryan Jenei got fouled on a 3-point shot with 16 seconds left, giving them a chance to tie the game. Jenei made the first two shots, but missed the second, leaving Centre ahead 73-72. The Colonels hit two more free throws to go up 75-72 with two seconds left. The Petrels had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but the shot wouldn't go and Centre secured victory.
Oglethorpe took a 43-38 lead at the half, but the Colonels responded with an 11-1 run to open the half. They built a 49-44 lead with 16:30 to go. The Petrels came back to tie it at 49-49, but Centre again pushed their advantage out to four points, 53-49, at the 12:40 mark. An Inungu basket and a pair of Inungu free throws tied the game back up and keyed an 11-4 spurt that gave Oglethorpe a 60-57 lead. The Colonels came back with their 7-0 run, though.
In the first half, Centre took an early 12-7 lead, but the Petrels responded with 11 straight to take an 18-12 lead with 12:10 until halftime. The two teams traded baskets for awhile after that, but 10 straight points over 1:45 gave the Colonels a 34-28 lead with 5:15 left until halftime. The Petrels responded by finishing the half on a 15-4 run and taking a five-point lead into the locker room.
Inungu led the way for the Petrels with 18 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line while also grabbing seven boards. Senior forward Will Perry scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Foster scored 14 points and passed out four assists.
The Petrels held an excellent shooting Centre team to just 43.9 percent from the field overall and 6-for-21 from 3-point range. However, Oglethorpe was only able to manage 42.9 percent from the field, 7-of-23 from long distance, and 55 percent from the foul line themselves.
"When a season or a career ends, you want to make sure you leave it all on the floor," said Oglethorpe head coach Philip Ponder. "These guys did that today. They played their butts off. This was a back and forth game that came down to the final play. We came up just short against a team that hasn't lost at home all year. This one hurt because the guys played so well and it had the feel of a heavyweight bout. Unfortunately, somebody had to lose. They were one play better than us today. I'm really going to miss this great group of seniors."