Leavenworth With the ball in his hands and down one point, Nick Devin inbounded the basketball with five seconds left against Nixa (Mo.) High.
But there was one problem - the clock didn't start and Free State was going for the winning shot.
After a short conversation among referees, the Firebirds had one last chance with the ball at halfcourt and 2.5 seconds left. Junior Weston Wiebe dribbled past two Nixa defenders, but his desperation three-pointer fell short, and Free State lost, 59-58, Thursday night at Leavenworth High.
"We ended up getting the ball on the rim at the buzzer, but with 2.5 seconds left, early in the season, coach hasn't quite gotten around to putting the two-and-a-half second, halfcourt-scoring play yet," Free State coach Chuck Law said. "So that's on me, too."
Senior Kyle Schreiner was under the net and had a chance at tipping the ball in the basket, but it likely would have come tenths of a second too late. Still, it was extremely close, and Schreiner just barely missed the tip.
"That will probably haunt me for a couple of days," Schreiner, who scored 12 points to lead Free State, said. "But hopefully, I can get that out of my mind."
Free State started the game with mistakes and a lack of energy. The Firebirds were down eight points at the half. Eleven turnovers plagued Free State in the first half.
"We didn't show up to play the first 15 minutes of the game," Law said. "We had some kids who were just, quite frankly, somewhere else."
The Firebirds looked like a different team in the second half. They actually took the lead for the first time in the third quarter on a beautiful jumping, no-look pass in the lane from Marcus Spates to Christian Ballard, who finished the layup.
"We learned how to handle adversity when we're down and battle back and get focused after getting down by a lot," Ballard said. "We didn't get the win, but I think we learned a lot."
Ballard finished with 10 points. He had a difficult defensive assignment on Nixa's center Travis Hicks, who displayed an array of skills in the post and from beyond the arc. Hicks scored 19 points. Many of those were layups, but the 6-foot-4 senior also drained three long-distance shots.
The game was tied with 24.8 seconds left and the Firebirds held for the last shot. Schreiner found an opening, drove to the basket and laid it up and in, but the referee called Schreiner for charging, giving the ball to Nixa. Junior Kris Wilson attempted to steal the ball in the backcourt, but mistakenly fouled Nixa's Corey Harmon. Harmon made one-of-two free throws for the one-point victory.
Free State will face Kansas City Washington today at 3:15 p.m. in its second game of the Citizens National Bank Tournament.