By Peter McClelland
(Keene, New Hampshire) – It was about as entertaining as a loss can be but the bottom line was that Gordon lost in overtime to Keene State College, 89-84, in an ECAC quarterfinal match at Keene on Wednesday evening.
“These are the types of games that good programs have to play in because they make you better,” said Gordon coach Mike Schauer after. “Win or lose this was a valuable night for us to compete at this level.”
This was a game in which Gordon played horribly in the first half – imagine 20 turnovers – and trailed by as many as 19 points (32-13 with nine minutes left).
“After the horrible start I thought we competed hard,” said coach Schauer. “I think we surprised them by the way we came back.”
That deficit was 48-33 early in the second half before the Owls cooled off and Gordon turned on the offense that carried them to 20 wins this season. The 19-2 run was sparked by Scott Beebe who tossed in two three’s and a four during 5 ½ remarkable minutes. The Scots now had the lead, 52-50, with 13 ½ minutes remaining.
“They’re a 20-win team so it was no accident that they made a comeback,” said Owl coach Rob Colbert. “They’re willing to run their stuff and their intelligence was impressive. Every time we made a mistake they punished us.”
That Gordon lead would get to 71-65 with 7 minutes left as Joe Witherspoon collected three baskets in a row including one set up by his patented behind-the-back dribble. The Scots were still on top when Elliott Blackstone found his way inside for a lay-up and a foul shot to keep Gordon in front, 74-70, with 3 minutes left.
The last three minutes of regulation were ugly. At least the Owls had four free throws to show for it. The Scots turned the ball over the last six times they had it. The toughest one was the last one when they tried, with 37 seconds left, to run the clock down for one last good shot. What they got, instead, was a 35-second clock violation and this game went into overtime.
Gordon hung around in overtime but their offensive weapons were dwindling in a hurry. Gordon’s most accurate 3-point shooter, Hayes Murray, had the flu and was not a factor. Josh Sylvester, the best field goal percentage shooter in the CCC, had fouled out in regulation. Halfway into overtime Joe Witherspoon, Gordon’s leading scorer, picked up his 5th and another minute later Scott Allenby, another good long-range shooter, was hit with his 5th.
That left things up to Scott Beebe. And the Gordon senior put the Scots into a position to win this one. First he faked Bennett Pawlusiak into commiting a 3-shot foul (he made all 3) and then he ploughed his way down the lane and launched an off-balanced leaner off the backboard for two more. This put Gordon ahead, 84-83, with 46 seconds remaining.
Then the Owls showed the composure that enabled them to win 20 games this season. They patiently passed the ball until Chris Timson got loose underneath for a lay-up and a foul shot. Fortunately, the foul shot was missed but unfortunately (for Gordon) Harley Davis found the rebound. He was fouled and made both shots giving Keene State a 3-point lead with 21 seconds remaining.
Gordon had one last chance as they were patient enough so that John Beebe found Ryan Smith for an open three. Ryan’s shot spun around the rim and went out and Keene State had the victory. “That shot was right in front of me and I was sure it was in,” said coach Schauer.
“We would have struggled to win in another OT,” said coach Schauer. “Three starters had fouled out and we were exhausted. We had players on the floor who’ve never been in late-game situations before.”
“Part of our game plan was to wear them down,” said coach Colbert. “I was at their game earlier in the season against Salem State and I felt that Salem State had won that game by wearing them down. We hoped to do the same thing.”
Coach Schauer had seen Keene State against Endicott. “I saw them drill Endicott at Endicott and was very impressed with them. I was surprised that they didn’t get into the NCAAs.”
The Owls had four players in double figures: Chris Timson (22), Alphonse Michalski (16), Derek Swenson (13) and Kyle Purinton (12).
Joe Witherspoon paced Gordon with 26 points while Scott Beebe added 22 points. Elliott Blackstone shot 6 for 10 and added 14 points.
On hand at the game was former Gordon coach Troy Justice and his assistant Mike Bishop. “I had to see them play once,” said Troy who caught a flight at 4AM from the Midwest to get to Keene.
And so the 2002-03 season ends with a highly successful 20-7 record. Thanks for those who’ve helped me along the way. It has been a great ride and I hope to do it again next season.