Misericordia’s men’s basketball team was playing for the opportunity to clinch its eighth consecutive berth in the Freedom Conference tournament.
Wilkes University was playing to keep its chances of returning to the tournament alive.
With both teams playing with something at stake — coupled with the way Misericordia was shooting free throws for most of the game — putting the Cougars on the line wasn’t such a bad idea.
Particularly while they were holding a mere two-point lead with 22.7 seconds left in the game.
That was until Misericordia’s Jason Kenny stepped to the line.
Kenny sank all four of his free throw attempts in the closing moments as the Cougars clinched their playoff spot with a 85-81 victory Saturday afternoon at the Anderson Center.
The win improved the Cougars to 16-7 overall and 7-5 in the Freedom Conference. Wilkes, which lost in the championship game last year, dropped to 11-12 and 5-7.
Misericordia clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference. Eastern, DeSales and Delaware Valley had clinched spots heading into Saturday’s action.
“It’s been a stressful year, but I love this group of guys,” Misericordia coach Willie Chandler said. “We are hitting shots and, defensively, we are getting better. When it is time to play defense, we could. I tell the guys we have to do it every time.”
Misericordia said goodbye to six seniors prior to the start of the game as part of senior day festivities, including six-foot-10 Tunkhannock Area grad James Hawk.
But it was Kenny, a sophomore, and freshman Tony Harding that stepped up big.
While the Cougars shot 12 of 23 from the foul line for the game, Kenny was a perfect 9 of 9 and finished with 28 points.
Harding added 23 points and played a huge part in a Misericordia run that turned a nine-point deficit into a three-point lead with 6:08 left.
Harding scored 10 points in the spurt, and after Wilkes was able to briefly take the lead again, added a basket that allowed the Cougars to open up a three-point advantage and hang on from there.
Wilkes had a one-point lead at the half and a 16-4 run helped the Colonels open up the nine-point lead at 12:29.
From there, Chandler made a defensive adjustment.
With the Colonels having success running a pick and pop, Chandler took his big men out of the lineup and went smaller, helping the Cougars speed things up a bit on the defensive end.
That change led to Misericordia’s run, which helped the team retake the lead and get the game at a friendlier pace.
“I had to get the bigs out, we couldn’t match up,” Chandler said. “It worked out. We started switching everything which helped a lot.”