Lightning comeback and record days highlight 2 OT win at Defiance for Pioneers

Transy guard Cooper Theobald broke the HCAC Record for single game free throw attempts and makes, hitting 29-of-32 shots on Saturday
Transy guard Cooper Theobald broke the HCAC Record for single game free throw attempts and makes, hitting 29-of-32 shots on Saturday

Defiance, Ohio – The Transylvania men's basketball team orchestrated another heart-straining comeback from a double-digit deficit on Saturday afternoon, winning 111-104 in double overtime against the Defiance College Yellow Jackets at the Karl H. Weaner Center.

The Pioneers grew their win streak to six games with the result, making it the third time during the streak the Pioneers have come back from a second half double-digit deficit to claim victory.

But Saturday's game may have been the most majestic comeback of them all on an afternoon that featured a sight never seen before in NCAA Division III basketball.

The afternoon featured a nonstop dose of back-and-forth basketball which continued deep into the late stages of the second half.

While the Pioneers proved successful in erasing a 7-0 deficit to start the game, and pouncing upon another early second half deficit to take a five-point lead, Defiance appeared ready to have the final word.

Trailing 47-42 with 13:38 left in the second half after one of a career-high seven made 3-pointers by freshman guard Gabe Schmitt, Defiance outscored Transylvania 20 to 6 over the next seven and a half minutes to take a nine-point lead. While the Pioneers tried to edge away at the deficit, Defiance proved adept at coming up with inside field goals when necessary, often on timely offensive rebounds.

After Defiance's Randall Aikins hit two free throws with 1:49 left in regulation, Transylvania trailed 75-65 and the game seemed sewn up.

But nobody told Transylvania, who was a week removed from a 21-point comeback win against Spalding, and still possessed the memory of a buzzer-beating comeback win against Ohio Northern at the Don Lane Classic on Dec. 21.

The arduous comeback began with a pair of free throw makes by sophomore forward Kyle Gullett, who knocked down two free throws to bring Transylvania within eight with 1:22 remaining in the second half. Defiance missed two free throws on the next possession and senior guard Alex Jones buried a floater to thin a 75-69 Defiance lead at the 1:02 mark.

Transylvania fouled successfully and Defiance split a pair of free throws before a putback shot from Theobald shortened the deficit to five with 38 seconds left. Defiance once again left the door open for the Pioneers as Yellow Jackets guard Chris Holmes went 1-for-2 from the line.

With 25 seconds remaining and his team down six, Gullett rebounded a missed outside shot and put it in for a 77-73 Defiance lead. Gullett then forced a steal in the backcourt which led to two quick free throw makes by Jones with 23 seconds to go.

Drama thickened as Defiance called timeout after being unable to inbound the ball. Following the timeout, Transylvania induced Defiance into a five-second inbounding violation, and Theobald attacked the rack to draw a foul. The sophomore hit his first, but missed the second free throw, which threatened to halt Transylvania's nearly complete comeback, as they trailed 77-76 with under 20 seconds to go.

Transylvania applied a foul to Defiance's Devin Mangas with 14 seconds left in regulation, and the Yellow Jackets wing split a pair of free throws for a 78-76 lead.

With one last chance to tie or win the game, Schmitt drove the lane and at the final moment delivered a bounce pass to Gullett, who hit a short-range jumper that sailed through the net with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

The overtime session see-sawed as it witnessed three ties and four lead changes. Two free throws from Theobald handed Transylvania a 91-88 lead with 14 seconds left in overtime. With the last possession in hand, Defiance's Michael Parker sent in a game-tying three with two seconds to go that forced another overtime.

Having come this far, the Pioneers dug in and made big plays in the second overtime to establish a buffer of comfort. Freshman Spencer McKinney ventured the first score of the second extra session with a 3-pointer from the left wing 85 seconds into double overtime for a 94-91 lead, and Theobald knocked down the first two of 12 free throws in the second overtime to build Transy's lead to five.

While Defiance clawed back multiple times in double OT, the Yellow Jackets were relegated to fouling, and Theobald knocked down an improbable 12 free throws in the second overtime to seal up the win for Transylvania.

Theobald's free throw torrent cemented a new Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference record for free throw makes and attempts in one game, as he went 29-for-32 from the foul line on the afternoon. Those numbers shattered the previous mark of 25 makes in 28 attempts by Bluffton's Thayne Recker, who set the previous record nearly two years ago.

Theobald's 32 free throw attempts are also believed to be an NCAA Division III men's basketball record for most free throw attempts in one game. The official NCAA record book currently lists the single game record for free throw attempts by Wisconsin-Stevens Point's Brant Bailey, who attempted 31 free throws back on Dec. 11, 1999.

Theobald's 29 converted free throws also come just one make short of the record for free throw makes of 30 in a game, set by UC San Diego's Rob Rittgers on Jan. 16, 1988.

15 of Theobald's free throw conversions came in the overtime sessions, while 18 came with 2:08 in regulation or later. 

In all, at least three different Pioneers set at least one career-high in a statistical category on the day. Theobald led all scorers and set a career-high with 37 points, the highest scoring mark for a Pioneer this season. Theobald did so on just 10 field goal attempts, going 4-for-10 from the floor.

Along with his nationally notable free throw numbers, Theobald set a career-high for minutes played with 48, and collected a season-high 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. 

Also joining Theobald in setting new career-highs in minutes were Jones, Schmitt, McKinney, and Gullett, who all played 37 minutes or more.

Gullett, who was a defensive beast in the second half, set a career-high with six blocks on the afternoon, while Schmitt set career highs in points with 31, as well as three-point makes and attempts, going 7-for-12 from beyond-the-arc.

Transylvania as a team shot 14-for-35 from three-point range, good for 40 percent on the day. The Pioneers had four double-digit scorers, as Jones joined Schmitt and Theobald with 15 points, and Gullett offered 14 points.

The Pioneers basked in their sixth consecutive win, their longest win streak since the 2012-13 season, when they went 20-8 en route to their last NCAA Tournament appearance.

Transylvania will try to keep up their remarkable string of play next Wednesday at home, when it hosts the Franklin College Grizzlies. Tipoff is scheduled at the Beck Center for 7:30 p.m.

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