Michael Britt failed on a game-tying free throw with four seconds left in a third overtime today, his University of District of Columbia teammates missed three tip-in attempts and the Firebirds lost an 86-84 heart-stopper to Western Kentucky.
UDC 7-foot center Earl Jones, who would foul out with 3:03 left in the third overtime, missed a free throw with no time remaining in regulation, sending the game into overtime tied at 60 before a crowd of 4,600.
The Division II Firebirds, playing their 10th road game in 12 starts (5-7), led their Division I opponent, 70-65, with 2:28 left in the second overtime after Phil Morgan sank two free throws. But the Hilltoppers scored eight of the next nine points to lead, 73-71, with five seconds left. The Firebirds worked the ball to half court in one second and called time.
Britt, who scored 32 points in a magical offensive performance, missed a backhanded tap-in on Jones' alley-oop inbounds pass. But 5-10 Mike Daniels swooped in over the crowd and tipped the ball in with no time remaining to send the game into overtime three.
In that last five-minute period, UDC trailed, 82-77, with 2:04 remaining, but Greg Carson scored a layup, Steve Smith added two free throws, and the Firebirds were within 82-81.
Western's Ken Ellis made two free throws for an 84-81 Hilltopper lead, but Carson's 18-foot jumper with 12 seconds left cut the UDC deficit to 84-83. Carson fouled out on the next play, sending Ken Hatcher, a 50 percent free throw shooter, to the line. He made one of two to make the score 85-83.
Hilltopper forward Tony Wilson, who scored a career-high 29 points, fouled Britt who bounced in his first free throw. His second bounced off the front rim. All 10 players struggled as the ball was nearly tipped in before the buzzer.
Firebird forward James Neal was called for a foul, and WKU center Craig McCormick registered the last of his 22 points with one second remaining. Western improved its record to 6-4.
"We did everything but win the damn ball game," said a drained Firebird Coach Wil Jones, visibly pleased with his team's effort. "We lose to Howard by two at the buzzer and by two in triple overtime to Division I Western Kentucky. You tell me our program ain't far behind."
The Hilltoppers, coached by alumnus-former NBA star Clem Haskins, had trouble scoring against UCD's two-three zone at the outset. They had nobody who could shoot over the zone and continually tried to force the ball inside to McCormick and the forwards, at first with no success.
The Firebirds jumped on top, 8-0, and led, 26-19, with four minutes remaining in the first half. But Western scored eight unanswered points and went on to lead, 31-30, at halftime. UDC's Jones, averaging 20 points per game, scored zero in the first half, shooting none for six from the field.
On the negative side, the thriller was marred by repeated officiating blunders so blatant the many Hilltopper fans sitting behind the UDC bench began to apologize to Coach Jones in the second half when it looked as if his team didn't have a chance.
Jones, who took his team off the floor two weeks ago to protest what he called ridiculous officiating at Wright State, stopped arguing with today's referees in the second half.
"It's a waste of time," he hollered. Jones began changing his entire offensive and defensive alignments to stay away from remotely possible fouls.
"I expect a little of this on the road," he screamed, "but not this much."