If the regular season ended today, the Keystone College men’s basketball team would be on the outside looking in for the Colonial States Athletic Conference tournament.
With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Giants still have a chance to change their fortunes, but will need some help.
After losing 88-67 at Gwynedd Mercy University on Monday night, Keystone dropped into a tie with Marywood University for sixth place and the last remaining playoff spot.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the Pacers hold the tiebreaker since they swept the regular season series with Keystone this season.
On Monday, a 21-point victory turned out to be anything but comfortable for Gwynedd Mercy, as Keystone sliced a 23-point halftime deficit down to 11 with 6:32 to play.
However, the Griffins scored eight straight points to regain the momentum on their way to the victory.
Sophomore guard Perry Belcher led the Giants, now 10-13 overall and 8-8 in the conference, with 16 points and senior guard Mark Gilliam and sophomore guard Jalen Flynn chipped in 15 and 13 points.
It was a tale of two halves for Keystone, as the Giants allowed 54 points in the first half, largely due to their inability to keep the Griffins away from the basket.
Gwynedd Mercy consistently got into the lane and was able to convert down low, finishing with 26 points in the paint, a major reason why it shot over 55 percent from the field.
On the other hand, Keystone settled for perimeter jump shots and made just 10 of 29 field goal attempts (34.5 percent).
The Giants’ defensive intensity picked up in the second half, thanks largely to a 1-3-1 match-up zone that kept the Griffins away from the basket and took them out of their game plan.
Slowly, but surely, Keystone whittled away at the lead and got within striking distance.
But with an opportunity to cut the lead under 10 points, the Giants committed three turnovers on their next four possessions and the Griffins scored eight points to turn a nerve-wracking 67-56 lead into a comfortable 75-56 advantage with 4:03 left.
For the game, Gwynedd Mercy out-scored Keystone, 48-34, in the lane and converted 18 Giant turnovers into 27 points.
The Giants did improve their playoff chances just two days before with a 93-88 road win over Immaculata University.
Junior guard JT Bennett led the Giants with 21 points, Flynn added 14 and Belcher finished with 12.
Keystone also received 11 points apiece from sophomore guard Austin Smith and junior guard Mark Perry and 10 from freshman guard Jaylen Nuckles.
The Giants appeared to have the game well in hand late in the second half when they built up an 89-74 lead with 3:09 remaining, but Immaculata had other plans.
The Mighty Macs scored 12 straight points to make it a one-possession game, 89-86, with 46 seconds remaining.
Bennett then ended the scoring slump for Keystone, draining two free throws to make it 91-86, but Immaculata answered with two points to once again make it a one-possession game.
The Giants then turned the ball over, giving the Mighty Macs an opportunity to tie it, but a 3-pointer from the left perimeter rolled around the rim and fell off, and Nuckles came up with the rebound.
Nuckles then sealed it with two free throws with five seconds remaining to set the final score.
Defensively, Keystone limited the Mighty Macs to less than 31 percent shooting from the field in the second half after Immaculata opened up a six-point halftime lead.
On the offense end, the Giants shot nearly 49 percent from the field in the second half on their way to putting 53 points on the scoreboard after halftime.
Keystone returns home Wednesday, Feb. 14, to host Centenary University on senior night, beginning at 8 p.m. in the Gambal Athletic Center in La Plume.
The top six teams in the CSAC will advance to the league’s post-season tournament, which begins with quarterfinal action on Monday, Feb. 19, and concludes with the championship game on Saturday, Feb. 24.
The top two teams receive byes in the quarterfinals, while the third and fourth seeds host the sixth and fifth seeds, respectively.