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Men's hoops falls to Merchant Marine in overtime

(Posted February 15, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- For the second day in a row, the Juniata College men's basketball team was caught in a hard-fought battle then required overtime to produce a victor.

However Sunday evening's outcome was much different.

Solid shooting in overtime by the United States Merchant Marine Academy, coupled with a Juniata squad that struggled to find its shot down the stretch, conspired to produce a 79-77 overtime win for the Mariners, in a Landmark Conference clash in Huntingdon, Pa.

The loss dropped Juniata to 7-17 overall, 5-8 in the Landmark Conference, and ended all chances for the Eagles to gain a post-season berth. Juniata still has the chance to play the role of spoiler to its archrival from Susquehanna University, when the Crusaders visit the Kennedy Sports + Recreation Center next Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Susquehanna (16-7, 10-3 Landmark) is tied with the University of Scranton atop the Landmark Conference standings, and the Crusaders will be seeking to clinch a regular season title, and the number one seed for the Landmark Conference tournament, on Juniata's home court next Saturday.

Against the Mariners, Juniata looked to have the game well in hand with a 12-point lead, 51-39, as the game clock moved inside of eight minutes. Merchant Marine slowly chiseled away at the lead, eventually tying the game at 64-64 with 27 seconds left in regulation with a traditional three-point play. Junior Jeff Berkey's (Stoystown, Pa./Shanksville-Stonycreek) potential game winning three-point shot at the buzzer was unsuccessful, sending the contest into the extra session.

Juniata was just 2-of-7 from the field over the final eight minutes of regulation, although the Eagles did shoot 9-of-10 at the free-throw line during that stretch.

In overtime, Juniata grabbed a quick lead as Dan Sekulski (Douglassville, Pa./Daniel Boone Area) grabbed the ball off the opening tip and drove the lane for a layup. After three ties and three lead changes, Merchant Marine took the lead for good on a three-pointer by Tom Izzo - his only trey of the game, but part of the Mariners' 10-of-33 performance beyond the arc. Izzo's three put USMMA in front 78-75, with only 52 seconds remaining in OT.

A pair of free throws by David Thompson (Altoona, Pa./Altoona Area) cut the Mariner lead down 78-77, and the margin remained one point after Merchant Marine's Kevin Kerr was fouled by junior Ryan Jones (Coudersport, Pa./Coudersport) and missed both free throws.

Sekulski grabbed the rebound off the second missed foul shot and pushed the ball forward to Eric Mueseler (Latrobe, Pa./Latrobe), but Mueseler's pass inside to Berkey was tipped and stolen by Kerr with nine seconds showing on the clock, virtually guaranteeing the victory.

Berkey and Thompson finished with 17 points, while Jones had nine points and hauled in six rebounds. Sekulski dished out four assists, to go with with seven-point effort.

Merchant Marine (14-10, 9-4 Landmark) had four players in double figures, led by Ryan Samuel and Matt Oaks with 15 points each. Matt Hueber and Kerr chipped in with 11 and 10 points respectively. The Mariners were aided by 18 Juniata turnovers, which led directly to 25 Merchant Marine points.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.