The University of Scranton men's basketball team made an improbable comeback from an eight-point deficit with 1:49 to play in overtime, but Juniata College made one of two free throws with just less than three second remaining to hand the Royals an 80-79 loss in the Long Center on Saturday afternoon.
In a tense battle reminiscent of last February's Landmark Conference semifinal in the Long Center – Juniata won that game in double overtime, 84-74 – the game featured 14 ties and 13 lead changes, and the last 10 minutes of regulation saw neither team lead by more than four. In the end, it was a free throw by Juniata senior guard Jeremy Hays (McMechen, W.V./John Marshall) with less than three seconds left that broke a tie game and gave the Eagles the win.
The Royals (10-3, 1-2 Landmark) placed three players in double figures, led by senior guard Tommy Morgan (Greenlawn, N.Y./Chaminade), who had 25 points. Junior guard Justin Klingman (Clarks Summit, Pa./Abington Heights) had a career-high 20 points and fellow junior guard Ross Danzig (Clarks Green, Pa./Abington Heights/Blair Academy, N.J.) added 18 points.
Scranton led by 10 at halftime, 34-24, and still led by eight five minutes into the second half before the Eagles (11-2, 2-0 Landmark) used an 11-2 run to take the lead, 47-45, on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Kyle Koehler (Chester Springs, Pa./Devon Prep), his only points of the game.
Juniata pushed the lead to four at the 9:22 mark, but Scranton fought back to tie the game at 53 on a pair of free throws by Klingman with 8:24 remaining.
From there, the game see-sawed back and forth as neither team led by more than two, and Juniata eventually turned a one-point deficit into a one-point lead on a pair of free throws by Hays with 1:14 remaining.
But Klingman drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game with exactly one minute remaining to give the Royals a 66-64 lead and force an Eagles timeout. Out of the timeout, Hays got free for a layup to tie the game with 42 seconds left. Danzig's jumper with 13 seconds was off the mark, but Hays couldn't connect on a driving shot at the buzzer and the game headed to overtime.
The Eagles jumped out to a quick six-point lead, fueled by back-to-back layups by Hays, and they eventually pushed the lead to eight with 1:49 left when he made one of two at the free throw line.
Scranton then staged its comeback as sophomore forward Marcus Thomas (Clarksburg, Md./Clarksburg) scored inside and Danzig hit two free throws to cut the deficit to four with 1:06 left. Juniata then hit one of two free throws before Danzig got free for a layup, making the score 77-74 with 48 seconds left.
Hays hit a pair of free throws to give Juniata some breathing room, but Morgan answered with a three-point play to cut the deficit to 79-77 with 37 seconds left. On the ensuing Juniata possession, Royals freshman guard Sean Cummings (Millstone Township, Pa./St. Peter's Prep) blocked a layup attempt and Thomas made a steal after the Eagles corralled the rebound.
Danzig then took the outlet pass the length of the floor and scored inside and was fouled, tying the game at 79 with 20 seconds left. His free throw rattled halfway down before coming out, and the Eagles secured the rebound. After a timeout, Hays drove the lane with the clock winding down and was fouled with just under three seconds left. He made one of two free throws and a desperation shot by the Royals didn't draw iron.
Sophomore forward Brendan Boken (South Pasadena, Calif./Loyola) had nine points and nine rebounds for Scranton before fouling out late in regulation. Danzig finished with five rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals, and Morgan had five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal.
Scranton finished 24-for-56 (42.9 percent) from the field, including 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) from 3-point range. The Royals hit 26 of 33 free throws (78.8 percent) and committed just 12 turnovers.
Senior forward Brian Scholly (State College, Pa./State College) and senior guard Kevin Stapleton (Indiana, Pa./Indiana) led Juniata with 16 points each. Hays had 14 points and seven assists while playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
Juniata was 29-for-63 (46 percent) from the field, including 3-for-10 from 3-point range. The Eagles were 19-for-29 (65.5 percent) from the free throw line, including 6-for-14 in overtime.
Scranton returns to action on Tuesday, Jan. 14, when they host Ithaca in the Long Center at 7 p.m.