Hope International’s Steve Jurich connected on two free throws in the final 17 seconds, completing a furious comeback for the Royals as they upset The Master’s College 60-58 before a stunned Bross Gym crowd Saturday evening.
The crushing loss dropped the 13th-ranked Mustangs to 16-7 overall and 8-4 in the GSAC where they share second place with three other clubs, one game behind front-running Westmont.
All looked well for the Mustangs, who enjoyed a 50-35 lead with 9:45 remaining. But, something happened on the way to their consecutive win and a share of the conference lead.
That something was a hard-charging Royal squad that refused to wilt under the pressure of a nationally-ranked team and a boisterous, partisan crowd.
The comeback started with a pair of Jeremy Kilgore free throws at the 9:04 mark and over the next seven minutes the Royals blitzed the Mustangs 18-4, taking only their second lead of the evening, 55-54, on a Kris Rosales layup with 2:10 remaining. Following a pair of scoreless possessions, the Mustangs answered and regained the lead on two Anthony Cammon charity tosses with 1:12 left.
But, the Royals wasted little time in responding as Aaron Woods drained a three-pointer with 49 seconds remaining, vaulting the visitors in front, 58-56. The back-and-forth continued on the Mustangs’ next possession when Cammon knotted the game with a layup out of a timeout.
The game appeared to be going down to the final possession but Jurich was fouled and converted one of two free throws with 17 ticks showing on the clock. After calling another timeout, the Mustangs went back to Cammon, who tallied a team-high 18 points, but the senior guard came up short on a jumper, Jurich corralled the rebound and hit the final point of the evening from the line to clinch the win.
The Mustangs’ journey to what appeared to be an insurmountable lead and another step in what was turning out to be a memorable season was a methodical one. It started with an early 8-0 run, featuring five straight points from Cammon and capped by a Leif Karlberg three-pointer at the 15:13 mark of the first half.
It continued over the next six minutes until Cammon’s second three-ball of the half put the Mustangs up 18-9 with 9:31 left in the half. They were still enjoying a nine-point lead (20-11) when the Royals began to exhibit some of the resilience and fortitude that would characterize their late-game surge. A 7-2 spurt, capped by a Jurich layup, pulled the Royals to within 22-18.
However, the Mustangs retaliated with a burst of their own, outscoring the visitors 8-3 in a two-minute window to extend the lead back to nine points (30-21). Cammon ignited the run with a jumper while Mike Harmon and Lance Reeves buried three-pointers to finish it off. It led to a 32-25 advantage at halftime.
Neither club shot the ball well over the opening 20 minutes with the Mustangs connecting on 41% of their attempts while limiting the Royals to 35% accuracy.
Coming out of the break, the Mustangs ramped things up quickly, scoring nine of the first 11 points to go up 41-28. Freshman Chris Patureau triggered the run with a layup and Harmon finished things off with five straight points, including a three-pointer with 15:34 left to play.
Then they started to pound it inside and senior Anthony Wells responded, sandwiching a pair of layups around a Harmon layup for a 49-35 advantage. Everything was lining up for an easy win. Or so it seemed to everybody except the Royals who wound up shooting a crisp 58% from the field over the final 20 minutes while the Mustangs settled for 44%.
Harmon finished as the only other Mustang in double figures, hitting 6-12 from the field en route to 14 points. Meanwhile, the Mustangs could never figure out Jurich who went for 21 points and 12 rebounds, leading a 37-23 advantage on the boards.
The loss was no way for the Mustangs to get ready for their next opponent, 16th-ranked Concordia, a team they lost to 91-80 back on January 10. Game time is 7:30pm Tuesday evening in Bross Gym.