WINONA, Minn. Mark Lovelace has been through a lot during his short time as the Saint Mary's University men's basketball team.
But nothing he has experienced during his inaugural year at the helm can compare to what unfolded in the final seconds of Wednesday's Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game against Bethel at the SMU Gym.
The Royals, who rallied form a seven-point second-half deficit, tied for the game for just the third time on a driving layup by Travis Jones with 2.3 seconds remaining and the Cardinals promptly turned the ball over on the ensuing possession. John Jacobs grabbed the loose ball and quickly called time-out.
Two seconds and the ball at midcourt appeared to be more than enough time for the Royals to pull out the come-from-behind win, right?
You see, Jacobs tired to call a time-out that the Royals didn't have, meaning the Cardinals were awarded a pair of free throws on the technical foul which Jimmy Wajda (Minneapolis, Minn.) calmly sank and the Cardinals escaped with a hard-earned 71-69 victory.
"We've seen some crazy things already this season, but nothing that compares to this," said Lovelace, whose team has now won three straight for the first time since SMU put together a four-game win streak late in the 1999-2000 season. "That was an excellent basketball game. The guys played hard the entire way. We never panicked when Bethel made that late comeback we just hung in there and played our game."
A game which continues to get better every day.
After trailing by six at the half, 37-31, the Cardinals came to life, riding a 10-point run by Terrence Smith (Broadview, Ill.) in the span of just over a minute to give SMU its first lead of the second half, 48-47 with 10 minutes remaining. SMU pushed that lead to as many as seven on three occasions the last time on a steal and dunk by Greg Brown (Martinez, Ga.) with 2:26 remaining that gave the Cardinals a 67-60 advantage.
Bethel responded with a 9-2 run, which concluded with Jones' game-tying layup, but it was the Cardinals who would have the last laugh, as they avenged an earlier, 90-74 loss to the Royals
Smith finished with a team-high 17 points for the Cardinals (4-9 MIAC 5-13 overall), while Wajda, Dan Kloak (Elmwood Park, Ill.) and Jeff Tendall (LeClaire, Iowa) all chipped in 10 points.
Jacobs and Tim Gilbert tossed in a game-high 18 points to lead the way for Bethel (8-5, 13-5), with Jones adding 17.