Winning Streak Comes to an End for the Setters

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Pace forward Peyton Wejnert takes the
ball to the basket in the overtime loss to
Southern Connecticut.

Even though their three-week-long winning streak finally came to an end late Saturday afternoon, the Setters of Pace University continued to prove they’re no longer hardwood pushovers.

A miraculous half-court desperation fling by Austin Gilbertson at the end of regulation time banked off the backboard and dropped right through the basket to tie the score, but visiting Southern Connecticut State was able to recover and went on to an 86-82 overtime victory at the Goldstein Fitness Center over a vastly improved Setter team that had begun the day riding a six-game win streak.

“To me, it was just two good Northeast 10 teams slugging it out, feeling really good about themselves,” said Pace head coach Matt Healing afterwards. “And unfortunately we came up on the short end of the stick.”

The Setters, now 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the conference, have been sitting atop the NE-10’s Southwest Division just one year after they only managed to win four of their 20 league games. The winning streak was the longest for Pace since the 2006-07 team also produced six straight victories late in the season.

“There’s some returning guys from last year, but it’s a new feel,” said Healing. “It’s a new group, new confidence, new energy, new trust. I feel like we’ve proven all year long now that we can go head to head with the guys in our league and compete and fight. We did that today and I’m proud of our guys.”

In a game that had nine lead changes in the first half and nine more in the second, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise that five minutes of overtime would be needed to decide the outcome. The Setters used a 15-3 spurt late in the first half to grab their largest lead of the day, eight points, with two minutes to go before intermission.

A baseline drive by Gilbertson with 10 seconds remaining enabled Pace to take a 38-32 edge at halftime. But the Owls began the second half on a 12-4 run, grabbing a one-point lead on a 3-pointer by southpaw Ulyen Coleman with 16:37 left in the game. After the Setters opened up a 49-44 advantage, Southern Connecticut responded with a 10-1 burst to build its largest lead, 56-51.

After a timeout, Pace bounced right back, outscoring the Owls 12-3 over a three-and-a-half-minute span that began with a 3-pointer from Ray Montilus, the reserve guard who provided the Setters with nine big points after halftime. A rare 4-point play by the Owls’ Isaiah McLeod, the leading scorer in the conference, soon gave SCSU a 67-65 lead with 3:05 to go.

A layup by Montilus, followed a minute later by a fast-break, left-handed layup by Peyton Wejnert, the junior forward who led Pace with 18 points and 10 rebounds, gave the Setters a 69-67 edge with 1:38 on the clock. But with 40 seconds left, Coleman hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, putting the Owls ahead by two points.

Wejnert picked up a loose ball under the basket and tied the game again with a layup with 20 seconds remaining. That set the stage for drama at both ends of the court, starting first with a 3-pointer from just beyond the top of the key by Coleman that gave SCSU a 74-71 lead with only four-tenths of a second remaining.

The ball was inbounded to Gilbertson near midcourt. In one motion, he sent the ball sailing more than 40 feet toward the rim. It caromed high off the glass and quickly dropped through the rim, sending the Setters and their home crowd into delirium and the game into overtime.

“Well, we had just used our last timeout previously on offense,” said Healing. “So out of timeouts, just trying to get our guys to space the floor and see if we can get off a heave. Lucky, we got one off and made it. Still had five minutes to play and just weren’t able to get enough stops.”

The Owls, with Coleman hitting another 3-point shot, scored the first four points of overtime and never looked back. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Wejnert with 1:30 left moved Pace to within 81-79 before the Owls’ McLeod delivered the dagger, a long 3-pointer from the right elbow with 11 seconds to go and the shot clock about to expire.

Pace’s Brandon Jacobs answered with a trey five seconds later, cutting the Setter deficit back down to two points, but McLeod made two clinching free throws with 4.7 seconds on the clock to seal the outcome.

“The three that McLeod hit there towards the end,” said Healing, pointing to the one shot that ended his team’s chances. “He’s a really good player. Obviously we made a big point of emphasis to try and not let him beat us. We did such a good job on him the whole game, so to let him get that shot off there in that spot was kind of the back breaker for us at that point.”

The Setters only play four times over the next month and don’t resume conference play until they host Southern New Hampshire on January 9. Despite the end of the winning streak, Healing couldn’t really have asked for much more from his players in their back-and-forth battle against the highly regarded Owls.

“I don’t think today’s defeat really affects that much,” he said. “I mean, they’re a really good team. They were picked first in the preseason poll and everybody knows how good they are. We’ll see them later in the year. We’re really excited about what the rest of the year holds for us. We’ve just gotta keep doing what we do — defend, rebound, trust each other, care about one another — and good things will happen.”

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