Wednesday night proved to be a momentous evening for the Oglethorpe men's basketball team in their season opener at Dorough Field House. They defeated the visiting Covenant Scots 79-78 in overtime in a frantic, back-and-forth contest to start the season off on the right foot, getting a buzzer-beater from freshman guard Lane Foster to send the game to overtime and a game-winning free throw from junior guard Devin Huffman with 22 seconds remaining in the extra period. In the process, senior guard Connor Smith passed 1,000 points for his career and Oglethorpe head coach Philip Ponder earned his 200th career victory.
Smith needed 13 points to reach 1,000 coming into the contest and reached the milestone when he sank a free throw at the 19:47 mark of the second half. He finished the game with 1,005 career points, placing him 28th on the all-time Oglethorpe scoring list for now. In Wednesday night's contest, he scored 18 points on 5-of-9 from the field overall and 4-of-7 from 3-point range. He also added a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
Ponder becomes the second coach in Oglethorpe men's basketball history to reach 200 career victories. He remains second on the all-time list behind Jack Berkshire, who accrued 315 wins during his career. Ponder's career record sits at 200-170 in his 15th season, all with the Stormy Petrels.
The game itself was a back-and-forth contest that neither team led by more than six points. After the Petrels tied it at 67-67 with 2:17 left, the Scots built a three-point lead back with 1:11 remaining. A basket from freshman forward Will Koch brought the home team to within a point, 70-69, but Covenant used a pair of free throws to push the lead back out to 72-69 with 12 seconds on the clock. The Petrels drove down the floor and got a basket from senior guard Chris Lawrence with five seconds left, but they were still down 72-71. They quickly fouled Covenant's Jared Jauch, who hit a free throw to make it 73-71 with four seconds remaining. He missed the second, though, setting in motion a wild sequence where Foster got the ball, drove quickly down the floor, and got a shot off in the lane just as the buzzer sounded. The ball rolled in, tying the game at 73-73, setting off pandemonium in Dorough and sending the game to overtime.
Foster hit another shot to start the extra period, but Covenant's Berto Dryden, who finished with a game-high 21 points, hit a three to give the Scots the lead back. Neither team scored for over two minutes after that, but Smith gave Oglethorpe the lead back with a huge three, making the score 78-76 with 2:05 on the clock. Covenant tied it back up with 1:25 remaining. The teams traded empty possessions and the Petrels had another chance to take the lead with under 30 seconds remaining in the overtime period. Huffman drove down the lane and drew contact with 22 seconds on the clock. He missed the first free throw, but buried the second for a 79-78 edge. Dryden missed a three-pointer with three seconds remaining that would've won the game at the other end, and Covenant was unable to recover the loose ball off the rebound before time expired, setting off another wild celebration on Pinholster Court.
Covenant built a six-point lead in the opening half of play off of hot three-point shooting. They sank 8 of 18 from beyond the arc in the opening stanza to lead by as many as six points four separate times in the first period. The Petrels fought back with a 13-2 run over a 3:12 stretch to turn the tables and build a 34-29 edge with 3:56 remaining in the half, their largest advantage of the game. The Scots went on an 11-0 run over 3:02 to get their six-point advantage back, as they led 40-34 with 32 seconds remaining before halftime.
The two teams went back and forth in the second half, with the Petrels going on a 13-3 run over 4:30 to take a 54-50 lead with 12:49 remaining in regulation. The visitors erased that advantage with six straight points, though, and the teams traded baskets for the next several minutes, setting up the end-of-game sequence.
After the first half barrage, the Petrels held Covenant to just 2-of-11 from three-point range the remainder of the contest. The game featured a total of 14 ties and 15 lead changes.
Junior center Tom Inungu finished the contest with a double-double, scoring 10 points on 5-of-6 from the field while grabbing 10 boards. Junior forward Will Perry scored 15 points and made 4 steals, while Foster tallied six assists, leading all participants.
"It was a crazy game!" said Ponder. "Credit goes to Covenant, as they were able to take us completely out of our offense. It became a little bit of a free-for-all. I don't think we handled their pressure well in the first half, but we only had five turnovers in the second half and overtime combined, so we started handling it better. I thought our guys battled, came back numerous times, battled some adversity, kept fighting, and it paid off in the end."
"It's tough to get 1,000 points in a career," Ponder continued. "That's an exclusive club that Connor was able to join tonight. It's a great testament to him, as he's had a great career so far, and hopefully he'll be able to finish up with a great senior year."
The Petrels will now get a couple days off before they hit the road for Sewanee, Tennessee, on Saturday. They'll take part in Sewanee's Lon Varnell Classic, where they'll go against Methodist at 9 p.m. Eastern on Saturday before turning around and playing Washington and Lee at 2 p.m. on Sunday. After that, they'll take a break for Thanksgiving before heading to LaGrange for the Lee Richter Classic over Thanksgiving weekend. There they'll take on LaGrange and Maryville.