Hoopsville Classic: Fantastic finish

More news about: Middlebury | St. Mary-s (Md.)
Joey Kizel lets his game-tying buzzer beater fly in the Panthers' game against St. Mary's (Md.)
Photo by Larry Radloff, D3photography.com

Story by Rob Knox

OWINGS MILLS, Md. – In a game featuring March-like drama and intensity, No. 10 St. Mary's (Md.) edged No. 18 Middlebury, 81-78, in overtime of a wonderfully played contest Sunday afternoon on the final day of the Hoopsville Classic at Stevenson University. Each team traded big plays and clutch baskets throughout the entertaining game.

St. Mary's senior guard Nick LaGuerre wanted to keep playing basketball. After all, who could blame him especially when he was in the middle of competing in a heavyweight showdown between two of the best teams in Division III. LaGuerre didn't mind that Middlebury's Joey Kizel made an off-balanced 3-pointer while falling into his teams’ bench as the buzzer sounded that forced overtime.

"I had a good look at his shot and I was thinking in my head that it would be a good story if he made it to tie the game," LaGuerre said. "Sure enough he made a good shot. Some of my teammates were kind of down after that shot, so I tried to keep everybody up. I reminded them that we still had more basketball to play so we had to stay confident."

Nobody would have minded if Middlebury and St. Mary's kept playing until the break of dawn as the battle between a pair of quality programs that advanced to last year’s NCAA Division III national quarterfinals lived up to the hype and then some. For a game played two weeks into the season, it was as good as it gets.

"It was a good game and both teams were hungry, which made it an exciting game," LaGuerre said. "I am happy that we were able to be a part of a game like this because even though it was nerve-wrecking at times, it was a lot of fun to compete against a good team like Middlebury."

The game featured 12 lead changes and seven ties. Many of the lead changes occurred during the final four minutes of regulation and overtime. Maybe these two teams will meet up sometime in March for an encore with much-higher stakes.

Make no mistake, Middlebury didn't lose the game, it just ran out of time as it had two open looks at another potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired that would have forced a second overtime. After Kizel's game-tying shot, the gym exploded in celebration and disbelief when the shot went through the net. Kizel was so excited that he kicked the scorer's table.

"We were trying to move the ball to get a quick look at the basket," Kizel said of his game-tying shot. "I dribbled and then I used a fake to get my man in the air because St. Mary’s did a great job of covering us at the end. When I saw I had a little space and that there was one second left, I just shot it. The shot felt good when it left my hands."

The Panthers rode the momentum of Kizel's shot to grab a 76-73 lead with 3:30 remaining in overtime. The Seahawks had the final flurry, scoring eight of the final 10 points of the game.

Donn Hill sank two foul shots with 58 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Seahawks the lead for good, 79-78. Kyle Wise added two more foul shots with 31 seconds left to set the stage for Middlebury’s final charge. St. Mary's was paced by Nick LaGuerre, who scored 14 of his team-high 22 points after intermission despite battling foul trouble. Hill added 18 points for the Seahawks. Wise was huge as he contributed 16 points. Troy Spurrier scored 10 points and rugged forward Brendan McFall collected a team-high eight rebounds.

Kizel led all scorers with 26 points in 39 electrifying minutes for the Panthers. He also dished out six assists for Middlebury, which despite losing both games viewed the weekend experience as a positive. Also reaching double figures for Middlebury was Jake Nidenberg, who scored 12 points. Hunter Merryman scored nine points and added eight rebounds.

"In the past, we haven’t played the toughest non-conference schedule," Kizel said. "We knew coming into this tournament that the level of competition would be significantly higher. Playing against these teams gets you better. Even though we wanted to win these games, the most important thing is to keep improving so that we can get to where we want to get to at the end of the season."

Middlebury controlled the first 12 minutes of the game by racing to a 27-17 advantage. The Seahawks bounced back with a 14-4 run fueled by Hill and Wise, who combined for 12 points during the burst that tied the game at 31 late in the first half. When Middlebury extended its advantage to 39-31 57 seconds into the second half, the Seahawks ripped off seven quick points as part of another 14-4 run that gave them a 45-41 lead with 15 minutes, 21 seconds remaining.

From that point on, the game was played within a two-basket window for the final 20 minutes. Even when it appeared that St. Mary's finally gained control with a 68-63 lead following a Wise basket with 1:45 remaining, Kizel answered with a layup and a foul shot 17 seconds later, helping to set the stage for the dramatic finish.

"When (Kizel) hit that shot, we were in shock," Hill said. "That shot was crazy, but luckily for us, we were able to get a few stops at the end. This was a big win for us."

Email Rob Knox at rob.knox@d3hoops.com and follow on twitter at @knoxrob1.