ROMEOVILLE, Ill.— Drury’s comeback effort had them on the brink of advancing in the NCAA-II Midwest Regional tournament, but a three-pointer from Findlay’s Anthony Masterlasco with 43 seconds remaining, put the game out of reach for the Panthers in a 71-66 loss on Saturday at Neil Carey Arena in Romeoville, Illinois.
Drury, seeded sixth in the region, ends their season with a 21-12 record while Oilers, seeded third and ranked eighth nationally in NCAA-II, advance to the second round with a 28-4 mark.
Findlay owned a lead for most of the afternoon but struggled to put the Panthers away. The Oilers jumped out to a 12-4 lead early, but senior guard Allen Billinger came off the bench hitting his first three three-point attempts to help give the Panthers a first-half lead before a 7-0 Findlay run gave the Oilers a 30-29 edge at halftime.
With only 5:47 remaining, Findlay gained a nine-point advantage, their biggest lead of the game, but Drury would come from behind again. A pair of old-fashioned three-point plays from Kamau Kinder helped the Panthers chip away, and a foul shot by Kinder with 1:10 left put Drury in front, 66-65.
The Oilers countered with Masterlasco’s three with 43 seconds left to give Findlay back the lead, 68-66. Drury’s shot attempts were off the mark in the closing seconds, and the Oilers hit free throws to close the game out.
“I thought we competed really well,” said Drury head coach Steve Hesser. “There were some areas of the game where we didn’t play as well as we have in recent games, but Findlay had a lot to do with that.”
Billinger ended with a game-high 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting, and he was 4 for 8 from three-point range while Kinder added 15 points.
“We would have died on the vine if Billinger hadn’t shown up today,” added Hesser. “Findlay did a really good job on Conley Garrison, and they had a second defender there any time he did get space. I’m really proud of Kamau as he stepped up and got some big baskets for us late.”
Aaron Overhiser led Findlay with 17 points while Trey Smith added 16. Masterlasco had 9 and his only three-point attempt of the afternoon was the one he sank to give the Oilers the lead with 43 seconds left.
“After our one-point loss at home to Indianapolis, which started us off 0-3 in January, I told this group that we were 0-0 and let’s see what we can do from there,” reflected Hesser as his team responded from that loss to win 14 of their 16 games and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA-II tournament. “I’m extremely proud of how this group became one. It’s very gratifying for me to have started to see them play for each other because these guys have created a bond that will last a lifetime.”
The Panthers were in the NCAA-II tournament field for the second straight year, it was their 12th trip overall, and their 10th appearance in the 15-year tenure of head coach Steve Hesser.