It was all very simple. A win in Saturday night's regular-season finale against Vanguard in Costa Mesa would send The Master's College on to next week's GSAC Tournament. A loss to the Lions would bring an end to the Mustangs' season.
So much for simplicity. What the Mustangs weren't counting on was some extra work but in the end they didn't mind as it paved the way to a thrilling 78-77, overtime win over the Lions. The victory was the club's third in a row and the fourth in their past five outings as they finished the regular season 12-17 overall and 6-14 in the GSAC.
The good news is that the season-ending rush qualified the team for next week's conference tournament. The bad news is that as the No. 8 seed, the Mustangs will have to face top-seeded and GSAC regular-season champion Concordia next Thursday evening (March 3) in the first round.
The Mustangs earned the win with a strong overtime showing after leading most of the way in the first half and then going back and forth with the Lions in a wild second period.
The Mustangs didn't score in the final 1:57 of regulation while Taylor Kelly's three-pointer with 1:41 remaining knotted the game at 67 and that wound up forcing overtime.
In the extra period, Leif Karlberg stuck a three-ball with 4:10 remaining and the Mustangs never gave up the lead. The Lions closed to one point on four occasions, including the final score, but could never fully catch up. The first time they pulled within one point (70-69), TMC's Anthony Cammon, who tallied a game-high 25 points, answered with a jumper at the 3:21 mark and when Devin Dyer converted a pair of free throws with 1:44 left, the lead reached 74-69.
But, the Lions, held scoreless for nearly 2½ minutes, broke through on a Chris Raybon jumper and made it a two-point (74-72) game when William Thompson hit one of two free throws at the 1:03 mark. Joey Fuca copied that on the Mustangs' next possession but Thompson's layup with 42 seconds remaining pulled the Lions within one point, 75-74. Cammon and Raybon converted one of two charity tosses on their clubs' next possessions and then the Mustangs weathered four straight misses by Paul Brown.
The last miss was knocked out of bounds and the Mustangs retained possession with nine seconds left. Fuca was fouled with six ticks left on the clock and hit both free throws for a three-point lead, 78-75. Not wanting to give up a three-point shot, the Mustangs immediately fouled Raybon on the inbounds pass and he hit two more free throws before the Mustangs were able to run out the clock.
Leading up to the extra period was a topsy-turvy second half featuring 10 lead changes and seven ties. The Mustangs carried a 34-30 lead into the second half but the Lions drew even with a 6-2 spurt in the opening 2½ minutes of the period. No more than six points separated the clubs the rest of the way and that came when TMC's Anthony Wells buried a three-pointer for a 56-50 advantage with 8:31 remaining.
But, that margin evaporated in a little over two minutes as the Lions tore off a 10-2 run to take a 60-58 lead with 5:53 left. However, the Mustangs turned things around just as quickly, outscoring the Lions 9-4 in a nearly four-minute window to produce a 67-64 lead. A Cammon three-pointer sparked the spurt, he added another bucket, Dyer tossed in a couple of free throws, and Brown finished it off with a layup.
As back and forth as the second half was, the opening 20 minutes were owned by the Mustangs. After falling behind 8-6, the Mustangs tallied seven points in a row to take a five-point lead. Cammon's second trifecta (he had four on the evening) of the game keyed the run while Ronnie Dodd and Wells added two points apiece.
The Lions never got closer than three points through the rest of the half while the Mustangs enjoyed as much as an 11-point (23-12) cushion. That came with 9:53 left in the half at the end of a 7-0 burst that was fueled by a Wells' layup and capped by a Cammon layup.
However, a scoring drought of nearly five minutes allowed the Lions to get back into the game as they duplicated the Mustangs' 7-0 run to close to 23-19. Two Dyer free throws snapped the skein and they extended the advantage to seven points (34-27) on a Wells' three-ball with 1:44 left before the Lions tallied the final three points of the period, sending the Mustangs to the locker room up 34-30.
Cammon's game-high total came on 8-13 shooting from the field, including a 4-5 showing from behind the arc. Playing his best game of the year, Wells was a perfect 5-5 from the field, highlighted by a 3-3 performance from long range, and 2-2 from the line en route to 15 points off the bench. Karlberg chipped in with 13 more points while Brown corralled a team-high 10 rebounds.
The Mustangs face a daunting task in trying to beat Concordia Thursday evening. The nation's third-ranked team manhandled the Mustangs twice this season, beating them 91-72 on December 11 and 89-71 on February 5.