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Mooseheart saw its six-game winning streak come to a halt Friday night in excruciating fashion with a 48-43 overtime loss to visiting Rockford Christian Life.
The defeat likely ends Mooseheart’s hopes of winning the Northeastern Athletic Conference championship because Rockford Christian (12-7, 7-0) now owns both the lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ramblers (9-5, 4-1).
“The better team won,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “They’re better than us. They are fundamentally more sound than us and you can tell.”
Even so, it took a lucky shot by the Eagles to send the game into overtime. Mooseheart led 38-35 and appeared on the verge of victory after Rockford’s Niko Sanchez missed the front end of a one-and-one with :12 left in the fourth quarter and then a three-pointer out of the left corner.
But Billy Cobb came down with the offensive rebound and passed back to guard Ryan Fiorucci, who banked in an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer to tie it.
Bryce Witzman then scored six of his game-high 21 points in the overtime for the Eagles, who scored the final six points of the contest after Mangisto Deng had given Mooseheart a 43-42 lead with two free throws with 54.8 seconds remaining.
“I tell the guys all the time, we have not handled adversity very well,” said Ahrens, whose team made two turnovers and missed a shot in the final 30 seconds. “When we get down, we get out of our offense and quit executing and that was the name of the game tonight.
“We didn’t run an offense once we got down and then you’re going to have poor shot selection and you’re going to shoot a poor percentage from the field and that’s what happened.”
Things started off rosy for the Ramblers, who scored just five seconds into the contest on an alley-oop dunk by Makur Puou and led by as much as 17-9 in the second quarter.
But the hosts failed to take advantage of their huge front line of the 6-7 Deng, the 6-10 Puou and 7-1 center Akim Nyang.
Deng had 20 points and seven rebounds and Puou chipped in 13 points and 16 boards, but neither got the ball often enough in areas where they could score, especially late in the contest. Nyang attempted only two shots and scored one point even though Rockford had no player taller than 6-6.
“We started jacking up jump shots right away and getting away from getting the ball into the post guys,” Ahrens said. “We’re going to go as far as guards and if our guards don’t play well and don’t play as a team, then we’re going to struggle because we need to get the ball to the big guys and we don’t do that very often.”
The Ramblers were also stymied by Rockford’s patient offense, which they used to bleed two minutes off the clock on several occasions. The Eagles protected the ball well, turning it over only nine times.
“They were just very patient on their offense,” Ahrens said. “They just ran a very patient offense tonight and we couldn’t do much about it.”
The Ramblers don’t have much time to dwell on the loss as they will play three games at the South Beloit tournament on Saturday.
“We’ll see what we’re made of,” Ahrens said. “We lost a tough game tonight and we’ll see how we respond tomorrow with three games.”