COLUMBIA — A thrilling overtime game almost ended the Stephens basketball team's five-game losing streak.
But in the American Midwest Conference, almost isn’t good enough.
“The conference is brutal,” Stars coach Dane Pavlovich said. “There is no easy game in this conference.”
The AMC has been unwelcoming hosts to its second-year member. In their first 27 AMC games, Stephens is 2-25.
The Stars' (8-14 overall this season) latest conference loss came in overtime Thursday night against Williams Baptist (13-11). After leading for the first 30 minutes, Stephens lost 89-81.
“It’s so close,” Pavlovich said. “So agonizingly close.”
The Stars had a particularly tough time guarding Williams Baptist guard Courtney Sublett, who had 20 points in the second half and six in overtime.
“We didn’t guard at all in the second half,” Pavlovich said. “We just had a tough time guarding them.”
Small mistakes piled up for Stephens, Pavlovich said, and a young team with 10 new members committed 20 turnovers.
“The little things are us getting rebounds, maybe us taking that extra step so we don’t have to foul,” Pavlovich said.
One of those small mistakes happened when forward Tia Lafavor fouled out, Pavlovich said. As Pavlovich yelled for his team to huddle, the players on the floor became confused, unable to use the extra time for strategy.
But despite surrendering their 14-point lead, Stephens was given a second chance when Sublett missed a pair of free throws at the end of regulation. Stephens put five shooters on the floor and guard Cara Leis capitalized with a 3-pointer to tie at 71 with half a second remaining.
“Give them credit, they spaced themselves around and did that on the fly,” Pavlovich said.
Once overtime began, Williams Baptist started with a 7-0 run that established a lead for good.
After scoring 11 points in the first half and eight points in the second half, Stephens’ guard Jessica McConnell slowed down, scoring just two points in overtime. Even forward Megan Sheffield’s 13 points and 16 rebounds was not enough to overcome Williams Baptist.
“We really competed for 40 minutes,” Pavlovich said. “When we did give up a run, we bounced back.”
With the conference season winding down, the schedule does not get any easier for Stephens. Three of its last five games are against ranked teams in the NAIA — No. 10 Columbia College, No. 16 McKendree and No. 17 William Woods.
The Stars’ next game, Saturday against Columbia College (22-3), will be the first challenge.
“They lost tonight, so they’re going to be really tough,” Pavlovich said. “We need to be able to play very, very well.”