The Spring Hill College men's basketball team suffered a hard-fought 71-68 setback at the hands of longtime rival the Loyola University Wolfpack in "The Den" on Thursday night.
Normally a perimeter shooting team, the Badgers opened the game using the midrange shooting skills of sophomore guard Tyler Schwab and senior forward Owen McNally to build a 19-14 lead eight minutes into the game only to see Loyola claw back into the fight and tie the score at 25 with five minutes left in the half.
Spring Hill responded with two quick baskets by sophomore Antonio Burch and held a 31-30 lead going into the intermission.
The teams traded baskets for the first four minutes of the second half before Loyola took a 4-point bulge at 41-37 off a fast break lay up by the Wolfpack's Ryan Brock.
Spring Hill College fought back to tie the game on several occasions over the next six minutes, but Loyola used a 6-point spurt at the 10-minute mark to forge a 54-48 lead.
Down 62-57 with 3 minutes on the clock two quick baskets by sophomore Chris Dees capped an 8-2 Badger run that cut the Loyola lead to 62-61. Senior guard Marcus Coleman then followed a Loyola fast break basket with a bucket from the left corner to keep the Badgers within one at 1:48 to go.
Two Antonio Burch free throws finally gave the Badgers the lead back at 65-64 with 1:40 left.
Sean Bennett hit a clutch 3-point basket at 1:11 to reclaim the Wolfpack advantage at 67-65 followed by a Darrinton Moncrieffe block of a Burch shot with 36 seconds showing.
Two Loyola free throws gave the Wolfpack a 4-point advantage, but Burch answered on the other end with a bucket and a free throw with 20 seconds remaining to make the score 69-68 in favor of Loyola. Bennett dropped in two free throws to build a score of 71-68 and then Coleman missed an off-balance 3-point game-tying attempt at the buzzer.
Burch led the Badgers with 21 points as McNally added 10 points. Junior center Nick Brown collected 12 rebounds in the SHC effort.
Loyola (13-6, 5-3 GCAC) was led by Brock and Bennett with 21 points each and Nick Tuszynski pulled in 10 rebounds for the Wolfpack.
The Badgers were 25-61 (41%) from the field including an unusually cold 3-of-19 (15.8%) performance from 3-point distance. The Wolfpack made 26 of its 61 shots (42.6%) and hit four of their 12 3-point attempts (33.3%).
The SHC defense forced Loyola into 13 turnovers in the face of seven Badger steals while the Wolfpack benefited from 19 SHC turnovers off just three takeaways by Loyola. Small comfort for SHC came in the rebounding statistics where the Badgers came away with a 44-33 advantage.
Spring Hill (10-7, 4-4 GCAC) will next take the short 10-mile jaunt up I-65 to face archrival the University of Mobile (10-7, 3-5 GCAC) at 7 p.m. on Saturday.