Emotions can get the best of you, but the KSU Tusc Golden Eagles didn't let a wave of endings get in their way as they beat Cincinnati Clermont 74-72 on Saturday afternoon in Founders Hall Gym. You could almost feel the tide turning for the Navy and Gold who won three of their last four games on the season, as they raised their record to 5-20 after a difficult week.
First, it was Senior Day as the Eagles honored Luke Butcher who has become a fixture on the team not only as the oldest player, but as the team's floor leader and future son-in-law of Coach Richard Tharp. During the pregame recognition both Butcher and Tharp fought through tears as their journey was recounted at mid court, where Butcher was presented a framed jersey and a painted basketball inscribed with the words "The Glue Guy". And his team mates, one who has been a life-long friend, Gunnar Tharp, were not about to let UCC spoil HIS day as Tharp went off for 32 points scoring KSU's first 10 points of the game---spotting them a 4-0 lead---and then scoring 11 of their last 13 for the game.
Then there was Christian Grimm---whose mother passed away last weekend after battling a long illness---who was thrust into the lineup early the first half only to gun down two triples when the offense went stale. Grimm, a team favorite and spinner of many yarns, knocked down the first bomb after the Golden Eagles fell behind by nine (35-26) and canned a second moments later with 2:42 left in the opening half to cut the lead to 37-32. Those beautiful rainbows must have received kisses from heaven as they fell like manna on their way down through the nets. It was a fitting end to a week of celebrating her life with his team mates who attended her calling hours and he paid them back in buckets.
And then there was the idea of retribution after the Golden Eagles fell to Clermont 94-88 where they were outscored 29-10 at the free throw line. A couple of days later, the Cougars downed then USCAA, D2, top-ranked Villa Maria College and the little engine that knew they could, wanted so bad to redeem themselves---and did!
The first half was a struggle as the Eagles fought back with two Princeton-like backdoor layups on consecutive possessions, as Malik Campbell received not one, but two, one-handed entry passes from Butcher to surprise the Clermont defense. And then there were Butcher's own two driving reverse layups as he used the basket to avoid taller Cougars. The Golden Eagles knew they could hang and felt good going to the locker room even though they were trailing 43-37 at the half.
The final 20 minutes was filled with multiple heroic plays by the winners. Jacob Hicks missed a three-point shot, got his own rebound and got a layup. Hicks also got an easy basket on a perfect pick-and-roll two-man game with Tharp on the left side of the lane as the Golden Eagles stayed within striking distance. Then Trevor Donaldson drove from the right wing, splitting and leaving two Cougar defenders in his wake for a lay-in on the left side of the lane to cut a seven-point deficit to 64-63 and the stage was set for an ambush.
With 4:47 left in the game an illegal pick was called on UC Clermont and they decided to apply full court pressure. The Golden Eagles pushed the ball up court quickly and found Tharp who sunk a wide open three-ball from the right wing for a 67-65 lead. That was the Eagles first lead since 16-15 in the opening half.
Tharp was fouled shooting a triple on a subsequent possession and converted on two of three tosses he was awarded, which capped an 8-0 KSU Tusc run before the Cougars scored again to get to within 69-67. Both teams decided to shorten the game by running some clock with 2:15 left after the visitors made a basket and a foul shot to tie the game at 70-70.
Campbell was fouled on a drive to the basket with 10 ticks left and made both free throws. Clermont had a floater in the lane miss its' mark as the Golden Eagles clamped down in the lane and after rebounding the errant shot, Tharp pushed tempo and was fouled trying to get the ball down court and run out the clock. He cashed in two more freebies for a 74-70 advantage with just one second left. The Golden Eagles called for a timeout and the huddle was filled with emotion as they knew victory was at hand and the starters were relieved from the game to the delight of the home crowd. Clermont would then get a last basket and an arduous week and the season was over on a high note.
Tharp was congratulated on the way to the locker room for scoring 32 points, and his reply was "Seventy four! We scored seventy four", putting the punctuation mark on the entire team effort. After all, every play on this day seemed like the biggest play of the day.
For the game Tharp led all scorers with 32 points and he made six triples. He was joined in double figures by Drew Williams who scored 11.
Grateful for team, family and a victory. (Photos by Memories by Lois) Luke Butcher "The Glue Guy" on Senior Day. (Photo by Tobin Mathias)
Luke on the floor as always hustling after a loose ball. (Photos by Memories by Lois)
Luke.....enough said! (Photos by Memories by Lois)