After a hard-fought game in the first round of the Great West Conference Tournament, seeing 16 ties, 17 lead changes, and two overtimes, Utah Valley University fell to Houston Baptist in the final seconds of the game.
Coming into the tournament, the Wolverines knew what they had to do to beat the Huskies this time around.
“One of our big things all year has been to get the most out of our possessions,” said senior forward Nick Thompson, “to limit turnovers and to take good shots”
UVU controlled the game for the majority of the first half. Led by Thompson and Ben Aird, who combined for 18 of the Wolverines 27 points in the half, the Wolverines only trailed one time before the break. A layup by Thompson tied the game at 27-27.
While there were only a few lead changes in the first half, the game became an all-out battle once the teams returned to the floor. Jason Johnson scored first in the second half off a dish from Holton Hunsaker, who followed it up with a jumper of his own, giving the Wolverines a four-point lead, the largest lead by either team in the half. The Huskies responded with two three-pointers from James Harper, giving Houston their first lead of the half at 33-32. Both teams battled vigorously for the rest of the half with many lead changes, neither team leading by more than four.
With 2:53 left in regulation, Marcel Smith buried a three pointer to put the Huskies up 55-53 but failed to make his next attempt fall after getting his second steal for the night. After grabbing the offensive board off a miss by Aird, Thompson pulled through once again for the Wolverines and made a layup with 1:45 remaining. Both teams missed shots in the closing minutes, and the clock ran out with the game tied 55-55, sending it into the first overtime.
Aird and Thompson continued to prove dominant for the Wolverines in the first overtime, but with 21 seconds remaining, Thompson, knowing this could be his last game as a Wolverine, pulled through once again and made the game-tying layup off a pass from Aird and sending the game into its second overtime.
“It was crazy. I knew going into it that I could be my last game,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it though.”
UVU struck first in the second OT when Jason Johnson grabbed a board from his own miss and got the lay-in. The Huskies followed with four consecutive points, bringing them up by two. Thompson scored his twenty-second point of the night with a jumper to tie the game 68-68. Smith, of the Huskies, hit a three-pointer to give Houston-Baptist the lead once again, but Hunsaker followed with two three-balls of his own, giving the Wolverines a 74-71 lead with 1:07 remaining. Rob Lewis followed with a jumper bringing Houston-Baptist within one point and then sank the game-winning three with just 2.6 seconds remaining.
It was a very tough loss for the Wolverines, who have battled all season long, but with only three seniors on their roster this season and knowing that they will be competing in the Western Athletic Conference next season, the men’s basketball team can be excited for what next year will bring.
“Next year we’ll be a member of the Western Athletic conference. A new era for UVU athletics, a new era for our basketball program, and for the first time ever we’ll be playing for an NCAA tournament bid,” said Head Coach Dick Hunsaker “It’s going to have its own life, so to speak. It’s going to bring energy and enthusiasm to our program.”
By Weston Brierley