This one should never have come down to the final minute, and even when it did, the Mississippi University for Women men’s basketball team had chances to come out ahead Sunday against Huntingdon College.
But in what had to be the most frustrating of the many losses the Owls have suffered this season, the Hawks scored the final 5 points of the game to defeat the Owls for the third time this season, 70-67 at Pohl Gym.
“It’s gut-wrenching to see you lead for 36 minutes and 35 seconds, they lead for 59 seconds, and you don’t come away with the win,” Burrows said. “It hurts … It hurts … It hurts.”
For a game in which they led for what seemed like hours, the Owls did a lot of things wrong.
“Basketball’s a simple game that we as players and coaches tend to overcomplicate,” Burrows said. “You take care of the basketball; we had 22 turnovers, so we didn’t take care of the basketball, and that led to 21 of their points. You’ve got to get to the line and make free throws; we only got to the line 14 times and made seven. We talk about shot selection; at times, I thought we had selfish shots.”
Yet, there were the Owls, leading 63-54 after Brien Kimmons found Terry Coleman Jr. down low on a fast break with less than 7 minutes to go. Their second win was within reach.
But the Hawks, who defeated the Owls 62-54 on Nov. 13 at LaGrange College and 85-78 on Dec. 18 at home in Montgomery, Alabama, chipped away behind guards Justin Johnson and Caleb Toney, who combined for the Hawks’ next 9 points interrupted only by Quintiyus Causey hitting 1 of 2 free throws on a foul that put the Owls in the double bonus with 4:57 still remaining.
But that didn’t matter. The W went to the line only twice the rest of the way, missing 3 of 4 attempts, including two with 52.9 seconds left that could have tied the game.
The Owls took their last lead with 2:59 to go when Kimmons — a junior guard who came off the bench to record a team-leading 5 assists — found Terryonte Thomas with a sweet pass for an easy layup to make it 67-65.
Kimmons played 27 minutes as the Owls were missing starting guard Milos Zeradjanin, who had been averaging almost 23 minutes per game. At 5-foot-10, Kimmons grabbed 4 rebounds to go along with the 5 assists.
“I thought Brien Kimmons came in and gave us a good game today for Milos,” Burrows said. “We played some of these guys extended minutes, Tanner Collins got some extended minutes, Ddallen (Bailey), Brien Kimmons got some extended minutes.”
But the final 3 minutes was a series of angst-inducing near misses and frustration for The W. There was a miss from point-blank range on a baseline drive, a pass that went off a teammate’s hands, a sideline save by Huntingdon’s Dylan Bohling that the Owls’ bench (which had an up-close view) swore loudly was out of bounds, those two missed free throws and, finally, not fouling when the Hawks had the ball in the closing seconds and losing more than 20 seconds off of the clock.
Thomas again led the Owls with 19 points, with Trey Jackson also in double figures with 12. Coleman had a terrific game off the bench: In addition to 14 points in 21 minutes, the 6-foot-5 freshman was 5 of 7 from the floor and was the only Owl who hit more than one free throw, going 4 for 4 from the line while leading the team with 9 rebounds.
The first half saw some of the best basketball the Owls have played all season. The first two baskets seemed as if they would set a tone: Thomas Wright opened the scoring on a putback, and Jackson knocked a pass loose on the other hand, went to the floor, got up and headed back down the floor for an open 3.
The rebounding stayed, as the Owls held a 44-30 advantage on the boards, but the 3-point shooting did not, as they finished just 4 of 18 from downtown. Taking fewer 3s was in the plan; making 22 percent was not.
But the Owls thrived early, going on a 10-0 run fueled by 6 points from Thomas to take their first double-digit lead 12 minutes into the game.
“When we were playing well, it started on the defensive end,” Burrows said. “We turned them over 16 times.”
But even when things were going well, there were signs of trouble: a traveling call on an open path for a dunk here, not getting the rebound on a missed free throw there. As Burrows says, the little things have a cumulative effect, and each missed chance or opponent’s basket that shouldn’t have happened came back to haunt the Owls at the end.
“Again, it all comes down to free throws, taking care of the basketball, rebounding and defending,” the coach said. “We defended our butts off in that first half. We really did a good job, and that’s what got us going. Then we got a little bit comfortable, we weren’t getting back in transition. In two separate instances we failed to secure the rebound on a missed free throw, which led to a basket or two.
“Things add up, and that’s what we’re trying to get them to understand. It’s a 40-minute deal.”
The Hawks made more free throws (17 of 27) than the Owls took (14). The Owls held small edges in second-chance points (9-7), fastbreak points (11-8), points in the paint (36-32) and bench scoring (26-25). Also, the Hawks committed more fouls (22-16) and made fewer field goals (28-24). Yet, there was the scoreboard, showing that none of those numbers told the full story, and the Owls had their 12th loss in 13 games.
“We’re a good club, and I don’t think we have enough guys who truly believe that,” said Burrows, acknowledging the Owls will be judged on their record. “I don’t know what the deal is. We exhale and take our foot off the gas, we start to panic, I don’t know. That’s why they pay sports psychologists a lot of money.
“I just know you’ve got to keep playing no matter what. You’re down 20, up 20, you’ve just got to keep playing, you’ve got to keep executing.”
The Owls have 10 games left to show they are a better club than the one that opened practice Oct. 15, with three of those chances in the next seven days. The W will travel Wednesday to Holly Springs to take on Rust College, then return to Pohl Gym for games Saturday against Covenant College and Monday for a rematch with Rust.