COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The Ursinus College men's basketball team appeared on its way to a critical victory in the race for the final Centennial Conference playoff berth, but visiting Muhlenberg caught fire in the second half and made one clutch free throw after another to hold off the Bears for an 84-79 victory in the Helfferich Hall finale.
The setback means the Bears' postseason fate will be determined on the last day of the regular season. Despite the tough setback, Ursinus (12-12, 7-10) got plenty of help elsewhere as Dickinson took down Gettysburg and F&M fell to Johns Hopkins. Washington College pulled even with Ursinus with an OT victory at McDaniel, but the Bears hold the tiebreaker over the Shoremen by virtue of their regular-season sweep. With a win on Saturday at F&M, Ursinus will punch its ticket to the playoffs regardless of other results.
The Mules (17-7, 10-7) were red-hot out of the gates, dropping in five 3-pointers in the first six minutes of game time and storming out to a 19-11 lead. The Bears, however, refused to be drawn into a long-range shootout and continually pounded the ball inside to George Gordon and Lucas Olshevski. The latter had three baskets in the first eight minutes – two of them on beautiful entry feeds from Trey Koehler – as part of a 12-0 burst that culminated in a lay-up by Gordon on the break and forced Muhlenberg into a timeout.
Ursinus went ahead by as many as nine points on Kpadeh's hanging jumper before Muhlenberg scored the last five points of the frame to cut the hosts' advantage to 41-37 at the break.
After making five of their first seven from 3-point range, the Mules misfired on 12 of their next 14 attempts and ended the half shooting just 38.6 percent overall (15 of 39).
Olshevski made all six of his shots in the first period as the Bears shot 57.1 percent from the floor (16 for 28) and got to the line 11 times while holding the visitors without a free-throw attempt.
After making just one 3 in the first half, Ryan McTamney got the Bears off to a fast start in the second half with a swish from deep on a baseline drive and kick by Ryan Hughes. After a series of 3-point misses by the Mules, McTamney streaked down the right side and finished a lay-up through contact to extend the home side's lead out to 48-39. Gordon then answered a Muhlenberg 3 with a pair of baskets, the first on a baby hook and the second a baseline jumper, to push the margin out to double digits for the first time at the 15:07 mark.
Dallas Hoffman started to heat up for the visitors, banging in a pair of NBA-range 3s during a 12-0 run that put Muhlenberg on top, 58-54, at the midway point of the stanza before McTamney rattled home a turnaround jumper on the baseline.
The Bears were down six, 72-66, with under four minutes to go, but McTamney collected an offensive rebound and immediately popped behind the line to drain a huge 3-pointer from the top of the key. After a Muhlenberg bucket, Hughes connected on two free throws to trim the deficit back to three, 74-71, with 2:21 left.
Nate Henty Brown splashed a deep trey to make it a 6-point game again before Edwards finished a tough drive down the right side. Following a pair of empty possessions for the Mules, Gordon swished a clutch 3 from the right corner to make it 77-76 with 21.9 seconds on the clock.
Following consecutive Ursinus fouls, Matt Gnias sank two free throws for a three-point Mule lead with 19.3 ticks showing. McTamney missed a drive on the other end, but Hughes was there for a critical offensive rebound and buried two free throws with 10.8 seconds left after absorbing a foul on the way back up.
Gnias went back to the line for one-and-one with 9.4 seconds left, and once again hit both to restore a three-point spread. Muhlenberg elected to foul on the other end, and Hughes dropped in the first with 5.5 seconds remaining. Out of a timeout, Hughes missed purposely and McTamney appeared to corral the miss but was whistled for an over-the-back foul, and Hoffman made one of two. Gaines chased down the rebound off the missed second foul shot and made two more at the stripe to ice it.
Gordon (18 points, 10 rebounds) and McTamney (15 points, 11 rebounds) each notched a double-double for the Bears. Hughes put up 17 points, six boards, and five assists and Olshevski landed on 14 points on 7-of-7 from the field.
The Bears tip off at 3 p.m. in Lancaster.