By Tony Maluso
The Ohio Athletic Conference season has another week left in it. But for Heidelberg's men's team, the possibility that its season could've ended Saturday existed.
Heidelberg is fighting with Otterbein and Muskingum - which was in town taking on the Student Princes Saturday - for the eighth and final spot in the OAC tournament. A loss to the Muskies likely would've ended 'Berg's postseason chances. But a win would keep the Student Princes in the hunt. And after Saturday's 72-66 win, that's right where they are.
"We extended our season tonight. If we would've lost tonight, we would've been out," Heidelberg coach Andy Bucheit admitted. "Now we got (Baldwin Wallace) on Wednesday and Otterbein on Saturday. Cross our fingers, hope Otterbein hasn't won another game yet, but if they lose out, we'll have a chance."
It can definitely be said that the team earned that chance, as everyone who saw the floor played a role in Saturday's win. Four players scored in double figures with a fifth finishing a point shy.
"We've been so close so many times," said Mike Petrie, who led Heidelberg with 19 points. "I think this one is really is a testament to our team. When we can stay positive and we fight and believe in our coach and do what he tells us, we can really get things done out there. ... We need to keep it rolling though."
Jackson Blue backed Petrie with 14 points while Deonte Holder and Keith Mackie each tallied 10. Columbian graduate Cole Williams finished with nine points to go along with seven rebounds.
"It was just a whole team effort," Blue said. "We were moving the ball; we were sharing the ball. We were helping each other out and finding the open guy.
"It makes it a lot easier cause you don't have to really on one guy. Everybody just plays their part. Drive hard and get open shots and find the open guy."
Even those who didn't do the scoring chipped in in other areas, whether it was defensively or rebounding - such as Jack Hart's game-high 11 boards.
"We've been talking a lot lately about affecting the game in other ways than scoring the basketball," Bucheit said. "We need other guys to step up. We can't just do it with two or three every night. I think this was the first night in a long time where every one that played, that stepped on the floor, affected the game some way."
A lot of people chipped in with shutting down two of the Muskies' top guns. Dave Brown came in leading Muskingum with 15.8 points a game, and Logan Kimble was right behind him with 14.5. Brown finished with 14, though most of those came at the foul line. Kimble was held scoreless.
"I didn't realize that, wow," Bucheit said when told of the blank spot on Kimble's scoresheet. "That's a heck of job cause he can score in a couple different ways. He can shoot it, he can certainly drive it, which is his strength. He posts up very well, strong and hard. I think part of that was maybe we got him in foul trouble. His matchup, Deonte, I think he was guarding Deonte most of the night. Deonte is hard to guard. He can create a lot of fouls. Getting him in foul trouble certainly helped us out there."
Muskingum coach Gene Ford said his team loses a lot when Kimble isn't able to produce.
"That hurts us when he doesn't play well," he said. "Christian Keller, this is his first game back off his broken foot for a month and he goes for seven points. It was nice to have him back but usually Logan gives us a little more. But hey, that's basketball. Sometimes guys play well and sometimes they don't."
Calvert grad Nick Warnement agreed about his fellow Muskie.
"Logan's one of our key players so it was rough. We fought hard though," he said.
In Warnement's return to Tiffin, the Muskingum freshman scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in 21 minutes.
"Felt good (to be back in town), just wish we would've won," he said.
Cody Kinn, a New Riegel graduate, finished with two points for Muskingum.
But the key to Heidelberg's win came in stopping Brown and Kimble.
"Our team defense is crazy," Petrie said. "We talk through, we've been working on talking in practice. In past games we haven't been talking very well, but today there wasn't a time where I didn't hear somebody behind me telling me a screen was coming.
"Dave Brown is probably one of the best shooters we'll ever face this year. As a team we really held him down. He got a lot of free throws, but for the most part he was never open."
Muskingum got an early boost from Clay Owings, a 9.2 point-a-game scorer, who put up 11 in the first half as the Muskies took a 36-35 led into the locker room.
Petrie opened the second half draining a 3-pointer and Heidelberg never trailed again.
"I think our coach gave us a great game plan and we stuck to it," Petrie said. "There wasn't many times where we had mental breakdowns. We got team stops; we got boards. We were really stopping the people we needed to stop and doing the things we were coached to do this week."
Heidelberg got up by as many as 11, but was still mindful of the season's first game against the Muskies, where Heidelberg saw a big lead slip away.
"We played them earlier in the season, we were up 18 and we let them come back and they beat us," Blue said. "We had that mindset that we can't give this lead up. We just had to keep attacking. We had to stay focused, coach had us all focused, we just had to execute the game plan."
But behind Cody Seiler, Muskingum was able to fight back to get as close as three in the final minutes, but thanks to 'Berg's foul shooting, the Muskies never got in a position where they had a chance to tie.
Heidelberg improves to 6-17, 2-14 OAC. Muskingum slipped to 7-16, 2-14. Otterbein sits a game above both for the final OAC tournament spot. The Cardinals host Heidelberg Saturday.
"It was a good win for us," Blue said. "We needed this to get in, but we still have two wins we need to get to help us get in. We got to stay focused and keep moving on."