WILKES-BARRE — It took more than 38 minutes, but Misericordia finally grabbed the lead. A sluggish first half had the Cougars headed toward a fourth loss in five games. No way to head into the postseason.
But Misericordia came through with one of its best surges of the month, rallying from 15 down to knock out King's 65-59 on Tuesday at Scandlon Gymnasium.
The loss eliminated the Monarchs from the Freedom Conference tournament race. King's will close out the season at home against rival Wilkes on Saturday. The Colonels also lost on Tuesday to fall out of the playoff picture.
Misericordia, the defending league champion, will enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed and travel to either DeSales or Delaware Valley on Feb. 20 for a semifinal matchup.
That much wasn't going to change for the Cougars (12-12, 8-5) on Tuesday – win or lose.
After a rough stretch to start off February, however, they needed a boost headed into the postseason. They got exactly that in the final nine minutes.
Feels a lot better than the alternative, Misericordia coach Trevor Woodruff said. I'm happy for the guys. On a night when – really, if you lose, it doesn't affect where you're going (in the playoffs) – I thought our guys really showed some pride, fought back and dug in.
We made a lot of good, smart plays down the stretch, which we haven't done a lot of this year.
Trailing 51-43, Misericordia ripped off an 18-4 run to stun the host Monarchs, taking the lead for the first time on a Steve Ware baseline drive with 1:54 to play.
Senior Justin Grotevant carried the Cougars as they struggled early on, setting a new career-high for the second straight game with 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting. He had 22 on Saturday in a loss to Delaware Valley.
It was Grotevant who started the comeback, scoring seven points sandwiched around a three-pointer from Matt Greene (14 points).
Ware eventually put the Cougars up for good while freshman Jesse Urich broke a cold streak with a big three and a pair of free throws. The Monarchs (9-15, 4-9) couldn't recover.
It's just been the story of our season, King's coach J.P. Andrejko said. I mean, it's just the same thing. We play a really good 20 minutes and then the second 20 we lose defensive intensity, offensively we break down. And we do it enough to stay close in games and just not win.
King's came into the game with a shake-up in the lineup as three regulars – starters Joe Caffrey and Ian Oakley along with Keyton Winder – were at the gym in street clothes. Andrejko said all three sat out for a violation of team rules.
Connor Hughes and Pat O'Donnell replaced Caffrey and Oakley in the lineup. O'Donnell finished with 12 points and eight rebounds for King's, trailing only Kyle Hammonds (19 points, eight rebounds).
The changes didn't hurt the Monarchs early, as they opened the game up with a 16-5 run and had a frustrated Misericordia side burning two timeouts in the first nine minutes.
The Monarchs' lead got as high as 15 points before the Cougars clawed within 35-25 at halftime.
Misericordia gradually pulled closer after the break and even made it a two-point game midway through the second at 45-43.
Things fell apart for the Monarchs from there as Misericordia turned an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead in just over six minutes.
For us to win, everybody has to contribute, Woodruff said. It's not going to be just Justin or just Steve. … If we can get more guys going and Justin can keep where he is, then we've got a fighting chance.
MISERICORDIA (65): Sean Bieski 1-4 1-2 3, Jesse Urich 3-5 2-2 10, Matt Greene 4-11 3-4 14, Steve Ware 2-5 1-2 5, Justin Grotevant 11-16 4-7 26, Joe Busacca 2-6 0-0 5, Anthony Sergio 0-3 0-0 0, Patrick Widdoss 1-5 0-0 2, Brandon Stone 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 11-17 65.
KING'S (59): Matt Fiorino 2-7 2-2 7, Connor Hughes 0-1 3-4 3, Kyle Hammonds 7-14 3-4 19, Tom Heston 3-5 1-1 7, Pat O'Donnell 6-13 0-0 12, Alex Cardoza 1-2 0-0 2, Tim O'Shea 3-9 0-2 6, Mike Foster 1-7 0-0 3. Totals 23-58 9-13 59.
Halftime— King's, 35-25
3-point field goals— MU 6-19 (Greene 3-9, Urich 2-4, Busacca 1-3, Sergio 0-3); KC 4-17 (Hammonds 2-5, Foster 1-5, Fiorino 1-6, O'Shea 0-1)