Menlo College, the host of the inaugural Big Island Classic men's basketball tournament, squared off against No. 12 Benedictine University in the nightcap of day one Tuesday.
The Eagles finished as the runner-up in the NCAA Division III playoffs a year ago, so the Oaks needed to play a flawless game to take them down. It might not have been a perfect game, but Menlo played one of the most entertaining games of the year.
Things got off to a great start for the Oaks as they controlled the tempo from the beginning. The only time Benedictine lead was the first 38 seconds after the first points of the game.
After that, the game was either tied or Menlo led. To be precise, Menlo wound up leading for 35:23. The lead ballooned to as many as 12 points late in the first half after solid and consistent performances across the board.
In the first half, the freshmen were leading the charge for the Oaks offensively. John Paine, Jeremiah Testa, and Jared Wall were the three leading scorers for the Oaks, with Paine leading the bunch with his 9 first half points.
Menlo had built a solid cushion going into the intermission, carrying the 39-28 lead with them.
The Eagles never seemed to close the gap in the second half, but the Oaks could not shut the door on them. A look up at the scoreboard, and the lead was nine. Then it was seven, six, five.
The Eagles found their shooting touch in the second half, and with 18 seconds left, Greg Reynolds of the Eagles was fouled in the act of shooting.
Down 69-70 at the time, he had the chance to put Benedictine up if he could just hit both of his free throws. He made the first shot to tie the game, but the second one came up short, and Menlo took over.
After a timeout, the Oaks put the ball in the hands of Graham. He milked the clock down as long he could before he penetrated the paint.
His goal was to crash the glass and hopefully draw a foul on a night where fouls were quite popular. But he could not reach his destination and had to pull back at the last second, the moment the ball left his hands.
His shot got off just in time and went swish shortly after the horn sounded to end the game.
His teammates mobbed him under the basket and Waverider Gym went into a frenzy. On a night full of oddities (three technical fouls and a stuck basketball on the rim), it seemed only fitting that the most unlikely of shots went in to end the game.
The Big Island Classic wraps up Wednesday, with two more games on tap. The first game is between Indiana Wesleyan University and Benedictine University, with tip-off at 4 p.m. local time.
Menlo will hit the floor in the final game of the tournament when they take on Northern New Mexico College at 6 p.m. Both games can be found live on the Menlo College Sports Network.