A tale of two basketball teams. No, that's not a reference to Heidelberg and Otterbein. It wasn't so much an amazing performance by the Cardinals that upset the Student Princes, as it was Heidelberg and its biggest obstacle - itself.
Coming into Saturday, Heidelberg had its plan set to take away Otterbein's biggest weapons, and secure a second OAC victory.
Easier said than done.
Heidelberg’s Jackson Blue shoots a layup against Otterbein’s Jon Juergens Saturday at Seiberling Gymnasium.
After picking up its first OAC victory Wednesday against Ohio Northern, Heidelberg was poised to show off its talents and continue its winning ways, but after a less-than-stellar performance, The 'Berg fell to the Cardinals, 81-77.
First-year coach Andy Bucheit fought back strong emotions after watching his team lose another winnable game,
"We're just digging ourselves a deeper and deeper hole." Bucheit said. "Too many times this season we've been in position to beat some of the top teams, we just didn't execute and ended up losing those games."
A talented Heidelberg team failed to play a solid 40 minutes of basketball. There were glimpses of a winning team on the court, but not consistent execution.
"We've got better players than a lot of other teams out there, but that doesn't mean we're gonna win games," said Bucheit. "When we can't make layups right at the hoop, and we don't make our foul shots, we're not gonna beat anybody. We've gotta start stepping up and winning games."
Heidelberg was on fire as Keith Mackie nailed a jumper, Mike Petrie hit a 3-pointer and Mackie followed up with another jumper to start the game. Three minutes in, Heidelberg had established a nine-point lead over the Cardinals.
That lead quickly diminished as Otterbein's (3-12, 2-6) Jake Phillis went to work putting it down in the paint. Phillis, a freshmen, put up 10 points in the first half and proved to be the biggest thorn in Heidelberg's side.
Second-year coach Todd Adrian had his young team focused on what they could do to play at their best.
"We had three freshman in the lineup, so right now 95 percent of what we do is all about us," Adrian said. "We're just trying to get comfortable with what we do, playing together and running our system, and taking the next step forward."
Inconsistency reared its ugly head as the Student Princes, who started the game on fire, ended the half shooting only 39 percent on field goals and trailed 39-33. At halftime coach Bucheit addressed the need for his team to put its game plan into play and emphasized to his team the importance of playing like a solid program.
"We discussed how we threw away the last 10 minutes of the half," Bucheit said. "We came out hotter than a firecracker, we built a lead, and then we just let them get back in the game. Those guys just took it to us."
Facing the pressure, Heidelberg began to play like a solid, winning team again. Otterbein began the second half by extending its lead to eight points. Things were far from over. Led by Keith Mackie's 25 points and Deonte Holder's 18 points, The 'Berg slowly regained control of the game and put itself back in a position for another OAC victory.
But Otterbein was not distracted.
"I knew they were a talented team," Adrian said. "We didn't ignore that fact and they have some really good players that make good plays and turn games around."
While Heidelberg struggled to find its identity, Otterbein continued to press the issue of consistency, following through with the game plan, and finishing.
"Bottom line is, we made a couple of adjustments, tightened up our defense, we were able to play a little bit deeper," Adrian said. "At the end of both halves, some of their shots were coming up short, and I thought we executed and tightened things up on both ends of the court."
Heidelberg's plan to disable Otterbein's biggest weapons worked great in theory, but the reality tells a different tale. Phillis put up 30 points against the Student Princes, and the OAC's leading scorer, Jake Bischoff, managed 13 points despite being heavily covered all game.
"A lot of our focus was on shutting down Bischoff, so we had our best defender on him," Bucheit said. "All week we talked about stopping these guys. I thought we did a good job on Bischoff. He's the league's leading scorer and we held him to 13 which is four under his average so I'm happy with our defensive effort on him. Where I'm not happy is we let Phillis, a freshman, score 30 points. At some point someone has got to step up and stop that guy."
The loss was detrimental to the Student Princes (5-10, 1-7), who now sit last in the OAC.
"This loss is huge, now we're dead last at 1-7 in the OAC, our record indicates that we're the 10th best team in this league," Bucheit said. "I strongly believe if you asked most coaches they would say there's no way Heidelberg is 10th."
While one team struggles with its identity, the other knows exactly who is is, what this win means to it, and what it must do to continue of the path of success.
"This win is validation. It's been hard because these are really talented, competitive kids and I try to teach them that talent alone doesn't get the job done," Adrian said. "We've played some really good teams in the OAC, so they've started to figure out that we need to focus on us, and not on them, so I think to pick up the win against this team, showed a lot of fight and a lot of character and was really a validation of our hard work."
It's getting back to work that's on Heidelberg's horizon, Buchiet said.
"We go on the road to Baldwin Wallace and Mount Union," Buchiet said. "Baldwin Wallace was No. 1 in pre-season, they've got all the talent in the world, they're very, very good, very dangerous, and if we play with the level of focus that we played with tonight, we will get beat by 30 points. Same thing goes for Mount Union. If we aren't focused and ready to go, they'll beat us by 30, but if we're focused, and play hard on every possession, execute make those easy shots, and hit our free throws we can beat anybody."