The Oglethorpe men's basketball team found themselves locked in another tight battle with the Birmingham-Southern Panthers Friday afternoon in the first round of the SAA Tournament. The fourth-seeded Stormy Petrels came back from a 16-point deficit in the first half and came through with some big shots and clutch free throws in overtime to knock off the fifth-seeded Panthers and advance to Saturday's semifinal round in Danville, Kentucky.
When the two teams played in Dorough Field House on Feb. 22, the Petrels jumped out to a 25-point lead in the first half before having to hang on and win in double overtime. The reverse happened on Friday, with Birmingham-Southern running out to a 16-point lead in the opening half of play. They started the game on a 12-0 run over the opening 5:20 and, after a 9-0 Oglethorpe run cut it to 12-9 at the 11:10 mark, pushed their advantage back out with a 19-6 stretch that gave them a 31-15 lead with 5:20 left in the opening half of play.
The Petrels fought back to end the half, though, keyed largely by the play of senior forward Will Perry. He scored 14 points in the opening half of play on 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-5 from long distance and willed his team back into the game late in the period. Perry, who finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, scored nine over the final five minutes of the period. He hit consecutive threes within a minute of his team falling behind by 16 and sparked a 15-0 run over 4:50 to get the Petrels back to within a point.
Oglethorpe was down 33-30 at the break and the two teams traded baskets for the first eight minutes of the second half. The Petrels tied the game three times during that stretch, but finally took the lead for the first time at the 11:05 mark. That came in the midst of a 10-2 run, and the Petrels pushed out to a 47-43 lead with 10 minutes remaining in regulation. The Panthers came back to take a 50-47 lead with 7:15 to go, but Oglethorpe moved back ahead and held a slight advantage for the rest of regulation. They had a 56-54 lead after a free throw from sophomore guard Lane Foster with 35 seconds left, but Birmingham-Southern tied the game with 18 seconds remaining and sent it to overtime.
Neither team led by more than two at any point during the extra period. The Petrels got consecutive baskets from Perry and senior center Tom Inungu, his only made field goal of the game, to take a 60-58 lead with just over two minutes left. The Panthers tied it at the other end with just over a minute left, but Inungu made the front end of a one-and-one to give Oglethorpe a tenuous 61-60 lead with 45 seconds remaining.
Birmingham-Southern's Zachary Allison got fouled in the lane with 15 seconds left and made both free throws to give the Panthers a 62-61 edge, but Inunugu picked up a huge offensive rebound off a missed Perry shot and got fouled with 3.5 seconds on the clock. He calmly stepped to the line and made both free throws to give the Petrels the lead back.
Foster stole a Panther baseball pass with just over a second remaining and got fouled. He went to the line and extended the Oglethorpe lead to three. Birmingham-Southern got a half-court shot off at the buzzer, but it was well short.
Foster finished the game with 15 points on 7-of-8 from the line. Inungu struggled from the field all night but led the team with 11 rebounds and made 5 of 6 free throws.
The Petrels shot just 32.8 percent from the field but converted on 85.7 percent of their free-throw attempts. That proved to be the difference in the game, as the Panthers shot 83.3 percent from the line but made 10 fewer foul shots over the course of the game. Oglethorpe held Birmingham-Southern to just 35.4 percent from the field.
"Today was a game of perseverance," said Oglethorpe head coach Philip Ponder. "We couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, but we battled back from two big deficits to make it a one-possession game by halftime. We struggled to score today, but our defense won the game for us. And we made some clutch free throws down the stretch. I'm proud of the way the guys kept their composure when we got down and kept battling."
The Petrels are now set to take on the top-seeded Centre Colonels on the latter's home court in the semifinals Saturday at 4 p.m. Centre beat Oglethorpe in both regular-season meetings between the two teams.