MARQUETTE - DeAndre Taylor and Jared Benson couldn't have scripted the last game of their college basketball careers much better than what occurred on Saturday.
Unless they could've written an epilogue for a league playoff run that won't happen.
Nevertheless, the afternoon ended with the phrase "... happily ever after" for the two seniors as they led the Northern Michigan University men to a 76-74 victory over Saginaw Valley State at the Berry Events Center.
Northern Michigan University's Jared Benson (3) of Carney makes a move for two points while Saginaw Valley State University's Mike Schaaf (35) tries to block him during the first half of GLIAC action Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Benson, a 6-foot-10 center from Carney, plugged the lane at both ends of the court, making turnaround jumper after turnaround jumper and finishing with 20 points and game highs of five rebounds and two blocked shots.
His steady work set up Taylor to end the Wildcats' season with an exclamation point.
Just after SVSU tied the score 74-74 when Eli Redman made 1 of 2 free throws, NMU called timeout with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Freshman forward Haki Stampley took the inbound pass near halfcourt and quickly dished to Taylor.
The 6-4 guard from Chicago made a move along the right baseline, shed off SVSU guard Chris Webb's bump in the chest, and leaned in for a 4-foot floater that hit nothing but net.
The ball hit the floor at the moment the backboard's red light and the buzzer went off to end the game.
"We drew up the play to go to DeAndre," Stampley said smiling a few minutes after the game. "I trust him to make that play."
Taylor felt confident, too.
"That's one of my strongest moves to the basket," Taylor said about the baseline move. "I just wanted to go to the basket strong and finish strong.
"We believed in what our coaches were saying right to the end."
And their head coach, Doug Lewis, was relieved to end the season with a one-game winning streak, especially considering that the alternative would've been to enter next season on a 10-game skid.
"It's been like this all year with our two seniors," Lewis said. "Good things happened for them, for their commitment to hard work. I'm just so happy and I'm so proud of them today.
"They've helped us lay the foundation of our program for the future. There's been a lot of up and downs the past two years, and while the wins may not have always been there, these two guys committed from beginning to end.
"Our freshmen don't really understand what it takes, what it means to win yet, and these guys have shown what they need to do to be successful."
The Wildcats hadn't won since Jan. 19, when they beat Grand Valley State at home, and finish the season at 9-17 overall and 5-14 in the GLIAC, a game behind Saginaw and in last place in the league's North Division.
Despite the recent losses, Lewis had a good feeling before and during Saturday's game.
"I looked in their eyes and I saw it today," Lewis said about his players. "I could see that they weren't going to go out without a fight."
Cardinals coach Frankie Smith said that big players who move well like Benson give SVSU fits.
"All year we've had trouble with post guys like Benson," Smith said. "That and his shooting - I think he was 6 for 6 in the first half."
A check of the statistics confirmed that fact, as Benson finished 7 of 12 from the field, including a 3-pointer, and 5 of 6 from the free-throw line.
Taylor, who scored a team-high 23 points, was also 5 of 6 at the line and 8 of 14 from the field, including a pair of 3s.
After the teams traded the lead several times in the early going, the Wildcats took a 20-17 lead on a triple by redshirt freshman Spencer Huss of Marquette with 9:07 to go in the first half. Huss finished with eight points.
They never trailed again, going up by as many as 13 points, 41-28, on a layup by Benson about 30 seconds into the second half.
The Cardinals chipped away and tied it twice in the late going, first at 68-68 before forcing the game down to Taylor's buzzer-beater.
SVSU junior guard Brett Beland of Menominee, often the smallest man on the floor, finished with a game-high 29 points, including five 3s. He also led his team with four rebounds and three steals. Webb added 21 points.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.