The Castleton men’s basketball team had sole possession of first place in the North Atlantic Conference in its sights last Friday night, but a 3-pointer in overtime let Husson University walk away with that distinction after a hard fought 77-71 loss.
Both team’s were tied at 6-2 in conference play going into the battle and the Spartans jumped out to an early 11-2 lead as the Eagles quickly found themselves playing catch-up. The game tightened up, however, and remained close until mid-way through the first half. After a turnover and a couple aggressive possessions, the Spartans finally had some breathing room with a 12-point lead.
But Husson closed the gap. With time winding down in the first half and Husson down by only 3, junior Tondi Mushandu took over with a layup that pushed the lead to 5. Following the basket, Mushandu came up with a block on the other end of the court and another layup, giving the Spartans a 39-32 halftime lead.
“We told the guys at halftime that we we’re confident in them, they needed to know that,” said coach Paul Culpo.
But the second half was different and the Eagles controlled the pace, grabbing the lead back at 43-42 just five minutes in. The Spartans weren’t done, however, retaking the lead and setting the stage for a back and forth late second half.
As the lead changed hands, the Spartans committed a vital foul with just 55 seconds remaining and surrendered the lead with a pair of free throws by Husson’s Raheem Anderson.
With time expiring and down by two, however, the home crowd absolutely erupted as sophomore Jordan Nelson tied the game with a hard drive to the rim, sending the game into overtime.
A closely battled overtime game ended with a turnover by the Spartans, already down by 3 points, which cost them a shot to tie the game.
Culpo lamented the loss and tried to figure out how it got away.
“Everyone’s beatable. It’s a game we should have won,” he said, targeting his team’s lack of ball security as a big reason. “I honestly feel we played a better second half, but when you turn the ball over as many times as we did it’s doesn’t help.”
Senior Chad Copeland, who finished the night with 31 points, 3 steals and 5 rebounds, also spoke about his team’s ball control
“I think we played with good effort, but our turnovers are ultimately what cost us the game,” he said. “We need to value the ball and we need to give maximum effort every night, but especially when we are playing league games.”
The Eagles also won the battle of the free-throw line, hitting 23 of 25 from the stripe compared to the Spartans 18 of 26.
“The opportunity was there, but turnovers and free throws can hurt you. We missed too many free throws,” said sophomore Israel Dudley.
On Saturday, the Spartans suffered another defeat at the hands of Green Mountain College, by a score of 80-68.