North Florida has lost several close games in the closing seconds this year, but none will likely be remembered more than this one against East Tennessee State.
The Ospreys missed a chance to send the game into overtime when Beau Beech missed three consecutive free throws with 0.3 seconds remaining, enabling the Buccaneers to earn an all-important 88-85 win on Saturday night at the UNF Arena.
The victory likely earned ETSU a first-round home game in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, and means UNF (14-15, 8-8) will likely travel to either ETSU or S.C. Upstate for the tournament opener.
The Ospreys are tied with Lipscomb for fifth place in the standings with two regular season games remaining. ETSU and Upstate share third place with 10-7 league records and meet in their lone remaining game next week with the winner locking down third place.
“We’ve had some tough losses this season. This one may be the most disappointing because it’s so late in the season and because of what was riding on the game [home court advantage in the tournament],” UNF coach Matthew Driscoll said.
North Florida had to overcome an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes to even have a chance to send the game to overtime. Down 85-77, the Ospreys used a three-point play by Travis Wallace and a 3-pointer by Beech to pull within two with a minute remaining.
After ETSU missed a shot with 30 seconds left, the Ospreys tied it at 85-all on a pair of free throws from Wallace. But ETSU guard Jalen Riley was fouled with three seconds left and he converted both free throws for a two-point lead.
UNF couldn’t connect on a long inbounds pass, and the Buccaneers added one more free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining. That’s when UNF threw a long pass to Wallace who batted it to Beech. He let go a desperation 3-point attempt that was well-short, but he was fouled on the play.
Beech, who’s among the conference leaders in free-throw percentage at 84.6, missed the first two attempts. Still needing a three points to tie, he purposely fired his third shot at the rim, but ETSU grabbed the rebound to secure the win.
“Sure, we expected Beau would make them all,” Driscoll said. “Right now he’s miserable, he’s disappointed, but he’s not pouting. He understands we have to move on to the next game.”