The Kent State Tuscarawas men's basketball team gave USCAA, ninth-ranked, Division 1, Bluefield State a real test before falling 79-76 at home on Thursday afternoon. The Golden Eagles managed to get off a three-point attempt just before the final buzzer, but the ball caromed off the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
From the outset the Navy and Gold did not back down against the much taller and more physical Big Blues. Gunnar Tharp got things started with a three to give the Eagles an early 3-2 lead which they stretched to 10-5 before the visitors realized that the 2-12 hosts always come to play. For most of the first half the Golden Eagles led until the final two minutes when Bluefield State surged to an eight point advantage and eventually a 38-33 lead at the half.
The Golden Eagles owned the first five points of the second half as Drew Williams canned a three point shot and Malik Campbell converted a steal into a layup and the game was tied at 38-38. Surprisingly, that tie was the closest things would get in the final 20 minutes even though the lead was cut to one point several times. The largest lead by Bluefield State came at the 10:33 mark when they converted on two triples for a nine point lead at 60-51. Another Tharp three pointer and a twisting reverse layup and a coast to coast run out by Campbell after a missed Big Blue attempt, erased the deficit as the Golden Eagles drew to within two points at 60-58.
Bluefield State would open leads of five and seven points, which the Golden Eagles quickly trimmed with timely baskets fueled by their pressure defense. Trailing 68-61 with 3:55 left, Tharp would hit another long bomb and Williams would add a lay in before Bluefield converted a free throw and the lead was three at 69-66. With 2:43 left to play the Big Blues jumped ahead by a 73-66 count before Williams swished a three from deep in the right corner cutting the lead to four, 73-69, before a frantic end to the game.
The Golden Eagles failed to convert on two possessions after a turnover and an offensive foul and was called on Bluefield State. The winners got another basket before Jacob Hicks scored in the paint and Campbell added another steal and layup off a Bluefield miss to get to within 75-73 with 27.4 seconds left. Another Bluefield basket was followed by a running one-hander and free throw by Tharp to get the Eagles into striking distance at 77-76 with 17 ticks remaining, but they were forced to foul five times on the ensuing Bluefiled possession to put the Big Blues on the foul line. Finally with 5.1 seconds left, Bluefield would make both ends of a one-and-one to lead by three at 79-76 and after a timeout, a good look by Campbell from near the top of the key would fall away to end the game.
Campbell would finish the game with a double-double, scoring 24 points making 10/18 two point tries and snaring 10 rebounds. Tharp scored 22 points making 6 triples in the game and Williams finished with 16 points while shooting 50% from the floor and making 4/6 threes. Luke Butcher would add 11 assists.
The Golden Eagles (2-13) hit the road for the weekend, as they travel to Andrews University on Saturday and are at Wright State Lake on Sunday.
Luke Butcher saves a ball inbounds after a steal near the Golden Eagles bench. (Photo by Memories by Lois)
Drew Williams take contact and drives baseline for two. (Photos by Memories by Lois)
Cheer Kent Tusc fires up the crowd during a timeout. (Photo by Memories by Lois)