COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The Ursinus College men's basketball team came within a whisker of a stunning upset of top-ranked Swarthmore in Wednesday's home opener, taking a lead into the final minute before the Garnet made several critical plays to escape Helfferich Hall with a pulse-pounding 88-86 victory.
Ryan McTamney dropped a game-high 28 points for the Bears (4-3, 0-2), who seized an 86-84 lead on Jimmy Kpadeh's contested double-clutch jumper in the lane with 1:10 to go. After a defensive stop, Kpadeh appeared to have a wide-open path to the basket, but Nate Shafer came out of nowhere to block the rookie's shot and save the ball for a teammate. Conor Harkins misfired on a 3-pointer, but the rebound caromed right out to Colin Shaw, who banked in a tying layup with 23 seconds on the clock.
With a chance at a final shot, though, the Bears turned it over and Shaw was fouled on his way up-court following a steal with 1.8 seconds showing. In the double bonus, Shaw drained both free throws to give the Garnet (7-0, 2-0) the lead. After a timeout, the ball was inbounded to Lucas Olshevski near midcourt. The junior had a decent look at a game-winning 3, but his would-be winner bounced off the backboard as the defending national runner-up survived its biggest test of the young season.
Bidding to become the second team in Centennial Conference history to knock off a No. 1 ranked team, Ursinus trailed by 11 midway through the first half before hitting its stride. The hosts leveled the game at 33 on Kpadeh's NBA-range 3, then answered back-to-back buckets by Swarthmore and nosed in front for the first time since the opening basket on McTamney's short baseline jumper with 2:04 remaining in the first half. The senior then connected on a corner trey in the closing seconds, and the upset alert was on with the Bears taking a 43-42 edge into the locker room.
McTamney stayed red-hot coming out of the break, canning consecutive triples before a Ryan Hughes free throw made it 50-42 in favor of the Bears. Ursinus continued to keep Swarthmore at arm's length, leading by as many as nine points over the next few minutes.
George Gordon's thunderous two-handed jam on a dish from Lucas Olshevski gave Ursinus a 63-56 lead with 11:14 to play, but the Garnet hit back with a 9-0 burst to go back in front by a deuce at the 9:20 mark and inched ahead 70-65 on Harkins' deep triple.
The Bears had no intentions of going quietly. Gordon responded with a mid-range jumper and, after a steal near midcourt, fed ahead for Bruce Edwards, who threw down a ferocious dunk with his right hand to pull within 70-69 with 6:56 to go.
The teams continued to engage in a tug-of-war, Ursinus knotting the contest several times until Nate Shafer's three-point play handed Swarthmore an 84-81 advantage just shy of the 2-minute mark. Showcasing his expanded range, Gordon swished a 3-pointer from the right wing to tie it once more, Garnet All-American Zac O'Dell fouled out on the other end before Kpadeh's circus shot set into motion a frantic final minute.
There was precious little to separate the two sides in the first-ever visit by a top-ranked team to Helfferich Hall. Swarthmore (54.8 percent) and Ursinus (50.0 percent) each shot at least 50 percent from the floor, and each made nine 3-pointers and 11 free throws. The Garnet held a slim edge on the boards (33-30), and turnovers were also nearly even as Swarthmore had a dozen to the Bears' 11. Ursinus capitalized in a big way on the Garnet's miscues, turning them into 21 points.
McTamney was sensational all night, making 11-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. All five starters registered double figures, with Gordon scoring a season-high 16, Edwards and Kpadeh adding 12, and Hughes finishing with 11. Edwards (7) and Kpadeh (5) combined for 12 assists.
O'Dell paced Swarthmore with 23 points, and Shaw had 20.
The Bears continue a three-game home stand against McDaniel on Saturday.