The Oglethorpe men's basketball team mounted a valiant comeback against the Centre Colonels Sunday afternoon in Danville, Kentucky, storming back from a 20-point deficit with just under 13 minutes remaining to a 1-point deficit with 13 seconds to go. However, Centre was able to hold off the Stormy Petrels over the game's final seconds to secure a 70-67 win. The defeat dropped Oglethorpe to 14-10 overall and 8-5 in SAA play, putting them in third place in the league with a single game left on the regular season schedule.
The Colonels held a 59-39 lead with 12:47 remaining, giving them a seemingly insurmountable edge. However, the Petrels slowly began to whittle that advantage away. They got it down to 10 with an immediate 10-0 run, making the score 59-49 with 10 minutes remaining. The two teams traded baskets over the next several minutes, though, and Centre still held a 64-54 lead with 6:30 remaining. The Petrels reeled off six straight points, though, all of them scored by junior center Tom Inungu, and cut the Colonel lead to 64-60 with 3:50 on the clock. Inungu converted another basket at the 2:30 mark to make it 64-62. Four straight Centre points pushed their lead back out to 68-62, but junior forward Will Perry converted a 3-point play at the other end to make it 68-65 with 1:30 left. Another Inungu layup cut the Centre lead to a single point, 68-67, capping the 28-9 Oglethorpe run over a 12:30 stretch. However, Centre made consecutive free throws at the other end and a last-ditch 3-pointer from sophomore guard Justin Hughes clanged off the rim at the buzzer.
The game was close throughout the first half, with the Petrels holding as much as a 5-point lead in the early going before Centre responded with a run to push back ahead. The Colonels led by as many as six points in the first half, 23-17, with 10:45 remaining until halftime. The Petrels responded with a minirun culminating in a 3-pointer from freshman forward Will Koch while tied the score at 27-27 with just under six minutes to go in the opening period. A free throw from Perry gave Oglethorpe a brief lead, but Centre finished the half on a 9-2 run and led 36-32 at the break.
In the second half, the Colonels slowly pushed their advantage out to the 20-point mark. They went on a 23-7 run over the opening 7:15 to build their 59-39 advantage.
The Petrels were led by Perry on the afternoon, as he scored 22 points on 9-of-18 from the field. Inungu recorded a double-double off the bench, scoring 15 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He went 6-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line while making a pair of steals. Sophomore guard Justin Hughes scored 13 points on 3-of-9 from long distance.
"We got beat badly in Sewanee on Friday night, and the loss effectively ended our chances of finishing first in the league," said Oglethorpe head coach Philip Ponder. "We talked as a team yesterday about today's game being a character game, and about perseverance and never quitting. I thought the guys came out and played their hearts out today, and in doing so, showed a ton of character. It was a nip-and-tuck first half, but Centre got hot in the second half and took a big lead. Our guys easily could have quit, but they kept fighting until the very end. I think we could've pulled that game out if we'd had just one more minute. Centre hasn't lost since we beat them almost a month ago, and they're undefeated at home. We are obviously disappointed to come out on the short end, but I'm extremely proud of our fight. If we play like that in the tournament, we can make a nice run."
The Petrels have one final game left in their regular season, as they'll head to northwest Georgia on Saturday to take on Berry at 8 p.m. After that, they'll get set to travel to the SAA Tournament from Feb. 23 through 25, which will take place in either Danville or Sewanee, Tennessee.