MONTICELLO — Henderson State’s Jonathan Fitzgerald released the ball with 0.9 second left on the clock from about 10 feet beyond half-court. He raised his arms as it fell through the net, giving the Reddies an improbable 88-85 win against Arkansas-Monticello Saturday afternoon at Steelman Field House.
It was just another dagger in the heart of the Weevils, losers of five of their past six outings.
Following an extended, and somber, post-game talk with his players, UAM coach Allen Sharpe said the last-second shot is not what beat the Weevils.
“We lose too many close ballgames with juniors and seniors playing,” an obviously frustrated Sharpe said after the game. “If we had a room full of freshmen and we lose like this to (Arkansas) Tech, to Henderson, it would be a little bit easier to swallow. But it’s really hard to swallow when you’ve got veteran players out there playing.”
Those veteran players shot well enough to win against the Reddies. UAM shot 32-of-68 from the floor for 47.1 percent and scored its most points in a game since Jan. 19 (an 86-82 win against Southwestern Oklahoma State). But the Weevils squandered a 10-point, second-half lead and a costly turnover with three seconds left set up Fitzgerald’s heroics.
“We don’t have any leadership at all,” Sharpe said. “We have We’ve got some good talent but there’s no internal accountability on their part. It’s not there. They know at the end of the day that coach will yell at me or coach will take me out, but I will still get to play.”
The Weevils dropped to 15-8 overall and 5-6 in the Great American Conference after starting the league schedule at 4-1.
For Fitzgerald and Henderson State (15-7, 10-2), the shot completed a comeback that started midway through the second half.
After scoring 23 points in the first half and guiding the Reddies to a 40-34 halftime advantage, Henderson’s Denzel Lyles was forced to the bench when an errant elbow resulted in a bleeding gash on the top of his head. While Lyles was sidelined the Reddies saw their lead evaporate and switch sides as the Weevils grabbed the lead and extended it to double digits.
Lyles re-entered the game with UAM up by four and watched as the Weevils extended it to 82-72 with 2:53 left. Lyles was the spark the Reddies needed down the stretch, nailing several key baskets to ignite the comeback. The Reddies finished the game on a 16-3 run and prevented the Weevils from scoring a field goal during the final 1:25
“That was just a gutsy effort by those guys,” Henderson State coach Doug Nichols said. “(Lyles) is a calming factor for sure. He’s a tremendous first-team all-conference shooter. But he does so much more than that. He handles the basketball. He gets us under control.”
Fitzgerald’s shot ruined an otherwise good night for the Weevils, who had four players in double figures. Sergio Crowe led the way with 30 points, L.A. Farmer finished with 21, Ricardo Hall had 15 and Kori Forge finished with 13.
Fitzgerald followed Lyles’ 30-point effort with 18, while Andrew Ensley and Kajuan Watson added 13 and 10, respectively.