The noisy crowd at Pohl Gym anticipated an exciting finish.
The Mississippi University for Women men’s basketball team had rallied from 6 points down with just more than 8 minutes to go to take a lead down the stretch Tuesday night against Belhaven, and the Owls fans wanted more.
Twice the Owls had the ball and a 2-point lead, but they could not convert on either possession. Blazers guard Matthew McMillan then buried two 3-pointers in the final minute to preserve an 85-81 win for the visitors.
“We forced one with about 5 seconds left on the shot clock that didn’t draw iron,” Owls coach Dean Burrows said. “But I thought down the stretch, out of timeouts, things that we haven’t done, we executed pretty well to get the looks that we wanted.”
The Owls did many things right during the final 8 minutes of the game. Sophomore Milos Zeradjanin scored 8 points during the last 4:30, including two 3-pointers; Clay Blanton came off the bench to nail outside shots on back-to-back possessions; and Ddallen Bailey drove the lane for a bucket that pulled The W to within 74-73.
But it was the defense that really got the fans and the bench fired up. The Owls hadn’t been special on that end of the floor for much of the game, but they turned it up in a big way late, holding the Blazers to one shot, getting a key steal and drawing two charges, both by Kenterrius Davison.
Burrows raved about Davison’s effort.
“The most exciting plays of the game were Kenterrius Davison taking those two charges,” he said. “That really sparked us. Ken plays with a lot of heart. He might not be an offensive juggernaut (Davison took one shot, had one assist and committed two fouls in 15 minutes of play), but he does a good job of running the show, getting guys the ball where they need it.
“He’s taken five charges in three games, and that’s the most unselfish play in the game of basketball. That’s heart, it’s sacrifice, it’s putting your body on the line for your teammates. That had me fired up, too.”
Zeradjanin and Trey Jackson led the Owls with 16 points apiece, with Jackson grabbing 7 rebounds and Zeradjanin posting 4 assists. Quintiyus Causey chipped in with 13 points, including hitting 3 of 5 3-point shots, and 4 assists.
The 3-pointer was a focus going in, offensively and defensively.
“We knew coming in that they made on average 10 3s a game, and we talked about who their four shooters were,” Burrows said. “And they combined for 11 of their 12 3s, so we;ve got to do a better job of executing on that end.”
The Owls actually made 13 3-pointers, but it tool them 34 attempts to do it, while the Blazers hit their 12 on 27 attempts. Overall, the Owls shot 39.5 percent from the floor, while the Blazers shot 48.3 percent.
“I thought coming in defense was our strong point in our first two games, and I think tonight we took a step back,” Burrows said. “What you saw there from Belhaven is that when you’ve got five guys who can shoot it and spread the floor, it’s hard to guard.”
Twelve players saw time for the Owls, and 11 of them scored. Blanton was just one of the players who provided a spark off the bench for The W in the home opener.
“I told Clay, stay ready, stay ready, and a lot of guys don’t stay ready if they’re not playing,” Burrows said. “A lot of guys sulk; they hang their heads. I told him to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. I told all of the guys that, but specifically him coming out of Saturday.”
Blanton did not see playing time Saturday in a 62-54 loss to Huntingdon.
“And then Shon Wright coming off the bench with 8 points and 6 rebounds,” Burrows continued. “Devon Kennick comes in, hits a 3. We’ve got talent, it’s just meshing that and being consistent day in and day out.”
The Owls’ next chance to do that will come this weekend in the Sewanee Classic in Sewanee, Tennessee. The W will take on the host school at 7 p.m. Friday and Birmingham-Southern at 1 p.m. Saturday before returning home at 2 p.m. Nov. 23 against Centenary.