No. 3 seed USI’s hopes for advancing past the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament were crushed Saturday at Knights Hall in Louisville by No. 6 Findlay’s Tyler Stern-Tucker in a 70-69 loss.
Stern-Tucker finished with 17 points and the game-winning layup with six seconds left after USI regained the lead 69-68 when Bobo Drummond finished a three-point play at the line with 31 seconds left.
“It was a big play at the end, but we have a series of plays we work on at the end of games, and that’s one we feel like we can get a bucket on every time,” Findlay head coach Charlie Ernst said.
Ernst said he was less worried about his team scoring in the final seconds than he was about stopping USI from scoring when they got the ball back.
The game’s final possession went to Jeril Taylor, who missed a near half-court shot as time expired. He finished with seven points after going 2-of-11 from the floor.
Taylor’s off-target jumper ended USI’s season at 25-5 and on a three-game losing streak including back-to-back losses in the final seconds (GLVC Tournament against Truman State).
“Down the stretch, they made the plays they needed to win and we didn’t. They got that back screen for the guy cutting to the basket [Stern-Tucker] and got an easy basket,” Alex Stein said. “We should have straight-lined it [to the rim on the final play]like coach was telling us, because they couldn’t foul us or we’d be going back to the free throw line, but it doesn’t come down to just that.”
USI played most of the game from behind 24:07 in total, including the whole first half where they were down by as many as 14 before going on a 12-0 run in the last 5:08 to close out the half down 24-22.
Poor shooting plagued USI through the first half as they only managed to shoot 21.9 percent (7-of-32) from the floor and 58.3 percent (7-of-12) from the free throw line.
“We weren’t getting clean driving lines and we weren’t getting clean ball reversals,” USI head coach Rodney Watson said. “Once we went to a smaller lineup, more of a guard lineup, that gave us a chance to get some rhythm offensively, and that’s what changed the first half.”
The first time USI led was with 17:31 left in the game after a Stein three gave them a 27-26 lead.
By the 11:19 mark of the second half USI was up by 13 in what turned out to be their largest lead before being outscored 34-20 over the remainder of the game.
Bobo Drummond finished his college career by scoring his career-high in his final game. He shot 71.4 percent (10-of-14) from the floor in the second half and scored 26 of his game-high 31, but he left two points off the board.
Drummond went 1-of-3 from the free throw line and missed two in a row at the 5:51 mark of the second half. The team finished 11-of-19 (57.9 percent) from the line.
“I would like to have those free throws back that I missed. Those were two big free throws,” Drummond said. “I left it all out on the court today with my teammates. It’s just unfortunate I can’t put the jersey back on and play with them one more time.”
After failing to make the NCAA Tournament two out of the past three years, this is the fourth time in the last five appearances USI has gone out in the first round.