COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – Thursday night inside Helfferich Hall had a playoff feel. With a few more performances like this one, the Ursinus College men's basketball team will get to experience the real thing.
The Bears shot 62.5 percent from the field (15 for 24) in a sensational second half, just enough to outduel Gettysburg, 84-79, in a slobber knocker between two Centennial Conference playoff contenders. The victory, combined with a loss by Washington College, put Ursinus (11-9, 6-7) all alone in fifth place with five league games remaining.
Ryan Hughes had 16 of his game-high tying 20 points in the second half and pulled down 12 rebounds for the Bears, who also got big games from George Gordon (20 points), Ryan McTamney (19 points, 8 rebounds), and Jimmy Kpadeh (15 points) in securing a season split with the Bullets (11-9, 5-8), who they came in tied with for the final postseason spot.
The stakes were massive for the weeknight showdown, and the play on the floor hardly disappointed. The teams traded one haymaker after another, neither leading by more than seven points in a wild one that featured 12 ties and nine lead changes. Down three with seven minutes left, Jimmy Kpadeh drained back-to-back 3-pointers, and the Bears went ahead for good on a drive by Hughes, who had several critical buckets and free throws down the stretch.
The Bears came out with a concerted game plan to pound the ball inside to Gordon, and the junior forward took full advantage, banging his way to four baskets within the first five minutes as Ursinus overturned an early 7-4 deficit with a run of six straight Gordon points.
After Gettysburg knotted it on a 3-pointer, Kpadeh began to find a rhythm. The rookie stuck a hanging jumper and connected on a step-back trey from the left wing with the shot clock winding down. The Bullets were on the top side of a sixth lead change before McTamney banged home triples on consecutive trips to give Ursinus a 23-18 edge at the midway point of the half.
The Bullets responded with a 7-0 run to regain the upper hand, and the lead switched sides three more times before intermission. Gettysburg finished the half on the upper end of the seesaw, getting a 3 from Nick Lord and a lay-up inside from Danny Duffey to go into the locker room with a 38-33 advantage.
Ursinus went down by seven on the first possession of the second half, but the answer came quickly as a bucket for Lucas Olshevski plus a foul made it a tie game, 44-44, four minutes into the stanza.
Alex Leder put the Bullets back on top with a straight-on 3-pointer, and Gettysburg had a four-point cushion before McTamney found Gordon for a corner trey with 12 minutes to play. The orange and blue went up by five on a deep 3 by Nick Antolini, only for Gordon to get another corner 3 to drop off the front of the rim, and a pair of free throws by Hughes leveled the score once more at 55 with 8:26 on the clock.
Back and forth the sides went, seemingly scoring on every possession, and Kpadeh's 3 from the right wing brought another deadlock at 62. The rookie had luck on his side on the next trip, bouncing a corner 3 off the front of the rim and the backboard before dropping in to give Ursinus the lead.
Leder answered with a bouncing 3 of his own, but Hughes converted a strong drive down the lane, and McTamney used a terrific up-and-under move to free himself for a reverse layup and a 69-65 advantage with 4:44 remaining.
Gordon brought the crowd to its feet with a block on one end, then jammed home the put-back from a Hughes miss to extend the lead to six at the 4-minute mark. After a Bullets basket, Gordon pump-faked a corner 3 and drove baseline for another basket.
Duffey's three-point play sliced the Bears' lead in half, and Antolini stepped in front of a pass and went the other way for a dunk to make it 73-72 just shy of the 2-minute mark. Hughes muscled his way down the left side of the lane for a bank shot, and Gettysburg misfired on two tying 3-point attempts before Ursinus called timeout with 48.6 ticks on the timer.
McTamney powered down on the block and drew a foul, sinking both ends of the 1-and-1 to make it 77-72 with 44.3 seconds to play. Out of a timeout, Gettysburg missed another 3, and Hughes was fouled before dropping in both from the stripe to ice it.
In a game with razor-thin margins, it was 3-point accuracy that made all the difference. Gettysburg was just 10 of 29 (34.5 percent) from behind the line, while the Bears went 8 for 14 (57.1 percent). Additionally, Ursinus made 18 of 23 (78.3 percent) from the free-throw line, while the Bullets were only 3 of 7. Hughes (9-of-10) and McTamney (7-of-7) missed just once in 16 attempts.
The Bears also commanded a 39-28 edge on the glass.
Gordon finished 9-for-13 from the floor, while Kpadeh was 6-for-9 and made all three of his 3s. Antolini paced four Bullets in double digits with 19.
Ursinus looks to keep its playoff pole position when it takes on Dickinson on Saturday in Carlisle.