Missouri Western had yet another close game resulting in a loss, but with a little more sting in this one knowing its tournament dreams are now over.
Western was put in a must-win situation against Central Missouri, while needing both Lincoln and Emporia St. to lose for any chance to get into the MIAA tournament.
The Griffons never fell behind the Mules until the final three minutes, when their turnovers resulted in big points for UCM, putting a cap on the game at 74-68.
“Winners make winning plays and losers make losing plays,” coach Tom Smith said. “That’s probably the story of our year. We just came up empty.”
The Griffons had control of the first half, at one point reaching a 16-point lead. They were able to end the half by holding UCM to only 23 points.
The second half was nothing more and nothing less than a deteriorating lead for the Griffons. The Mules shot 65 percent from the field in the second half, a huge improvement from their first half shooting of only 35 percent. The Mules scoring was led by Dominique Long, who was able to put up the game high 26 points against the Griffons.
The loss was especially hard on senior forward, Lavonte Douglas, who put up great numbers and grabbed his sixth double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds, only missing three shots from the field.
“It just comes down to the same thing every game, can’t close them out,” Douglas said. “We just got to keep fighting, and we’ve been fighting. We never quit.”
Statistics didn’t mean as much to Douglas after knowing the effort still resulted in falling short of what the Griffons needed most.
“I’d rather take two points and two rebounds with a win,” Douglas said.
Another senior who sadly came up just short of his last MIAA tournament opportunity was T.J. Johnson, who was able to get himself 13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Johnson was able to see the positives from this team and this season — good things that he’ll be able to carry on after basketball.
“We’re a family, man, through the bad season we’ve been together,” Johnson said. “I’ve got brothers for a lifetime. I know that I can call these guys if I ever need anything, and they’ll be there. It’s not all about basketball. We’re a family and we have to be together.”
The seniors will play their last game as Griffons against Southwest Baptist at 3:30 Saturday, Feb. 25 at MWSU Fieldhouse.