Two all-stars, two last-minute jumpers, two contrasting fates. What better way to decide a tense game between championship contenders?
On such moments Saturday's collision between Christopher Newport and North Carolina Wesleyan hinged.
Wesleyan's Matt Dougherty made his 3-pointer from the left corner. CNU's Conley Taylor missed his from the right wing seconds later.
"It felt real good," Taylor said, his uniform still dripping sweat after the 70-68 defeat. "It looked good, too. That's as close as they come."
Indeed, Taylor's bid to tie the score with 10 seconds remaining rolled around the rim and out, eliciting a collective groan from 1,315 spectators and the Captains' bench.
And it was a cruel conclusion for the USA South Conference's top scorer. Nineteen of Taylor's 24 points came after halftime as he slashed through the Bishops' defense at will.
"That's the guy we wanted shooting it," CNU first-year coach John Krikorian said of Taylor. "He gets a look in his eye sometimes."
As does Dougherty. Wesleyan's best player torched CNU for 31 points last month in a 90-86 victory, but Saturday he was 0-for-11 from the field and scoreless — until the final minute.
With the Bishops (15-6, 7-1) nursing a 66-64 lead, Dougherty let fly from the left corner.
"I knew I had made it," Dougherty said. "I have the confidence, and my teammates have the confidence in me."
"You knew it (was going in) immediately," Krikorian said. "We gambled on a pass at the top (of the key), and that hurt us. But our guys were just trying to make a big play. You can't fault them for that."
CNU's greatest faults Saturday were turnovers and second-half interior defense. The Captains (13-7, 6-2) committed 19 turnovers, while 15 of the Bishops' 17 buckets after intermission came from point-blank range.
"We were switching on screens, and they made a good adjustment in the second half," Taylor said. "The (screener) was diving to the (basket), and they were getting easy layups."
Domarius Thomas and Josh Morrison were Olympic-caliber divers, combining for 39 points to mask Dougherty's struggles.
After Dougherty's 3-pointer made it 69-64, Thomas fouled Paul Meredith on a made layup. Meredith missed the free throw, but CNU's Mike Green rebounded with 20.1 seconds left. Following a timeout, Green (23 points and 13 boards) drew a double-team in the post and passed to Taylor beyond the arc.
"He's a great player, too," Dougherty said of Taylor, "and he had a great game."
"We look forward to playing Wesleyan again in the championship game (of the USA South tournament)," Taylor said.
Green fouled Alex Murray after Taylor's miss, and Murray made 1-of-2 free throws with 8.1 seconds remaining. Green's tip-in with 1.3 seconds left narrowed the margin to 70-68, but Wesleyan inbounded and ran out the clock.
"This wasn't the Super Bowl for us," Krikorian said. "We want to be playing our best basketball three weeks from now. We did a lot of things tonight that championship teams do."
Three weeks from now is the USA South tournament, which will determine the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. CNU earned 17 NCAA invites during former coach C.J. Woollum's 26 seasons, and Krikorian understands that is the program's standard.
But after consecutive home losses to first-rate opponents, Randolph-Macon and Wesleyan, Krikorian needs to re-establish the Captains' faith in themselves, and him.
He doesn't have much time. CNU hosts Old Dominion Athletic Conference also-ran Roanoke on Sunday before taking a week to prepare for next weekend's critical road swing to Averett and USA South-leading Ferrum — the Captains dealt the Panthers their lone league loss.
Does CNU look forward to a game less than 24 hours after Saturday's disappointment?
"It's a good thing," Taylor said. "I feel sorry for Roanoke tomorrow."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP