As the Valley City State University mens basketball team left the floor following its 63-61 win over Dickinson State at W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse, there was only a hint of the normal joy that comes with victory.
More than anything, there was disappointment that what seemed a sure victory — a 10-point lead with two minutes left — was ultimately decided by a missed buzzer beating 3-pointer from Dickinson's Anthony Hodges, on an open look from the corner that would have sent the Blue Hawks away with the win.
"I'm certainly disappointed that it came down to a situation where they had a great shot to beat us," VCSU mens coach Jeff Kaminsky said. "I've got to give them a lot of credit. It was a game that we certainly could have pulled away and very easily made it a 20-point game, but, to their credit, they've got a lot of athletes and they can put a lot of pressure on you, and if they're making shots, they can be a very dangerous team, and they did that down the stretch."
It was a stretch run in which Hodges, who played just under two minutes in the game, racked up 10 points, shooting 3 of 4 from the field and hitting two free throws. His only miss was the game ending shot, which clanked off the back of the rim.
It was a stretch that cancelled out the hard work the team had done earlier in the half, where they shot well, despite the physicality of the game, and led by as many as 15 points with 6:35 left in the half.
Problem was, the Vikings had chances to put it away but couldn't.
With 2:07 left, Sekani Milligen hit two free throws to go up 59-47,
Nine seconds later, Dickinson's Matt Lee hit a layup to make it 59-49. The Blue Hawks quickly got the ball back and had a 3-pointers from Hodges to make it 59-52 with 1:45 left.
VCSU used the next posession to kill about 40 seconds and got three throws by Aaron Duske to make it 62-54.
Hodges continued his shooting, knocking down a 3 and a layup to make it 63-59 after Valley City went 2-4 in free throws in its next possession.
VCSU's Gus Kueber then missed two free throws with 16.1 left, and Hodges was fouled by AJ McDonald as he went for a layup, hitting both free throws to make it 63-61.
Dickinson then fouled McDonald, who missed both of his free throws and gave Hodges a chance at the winning basket.
Milligen said the team was caught a bit off guard by Hodges, whose only playing time was in the last two minutes of the game.
"After we went back on defense and he came down and he hit that shot, I went up to him, I was like 'Where'd you come from? You just come into the game and start hitting shots,'" he said. "On that last play, I think he had a good look and I'm glad he didn't make it."
Though the team was disappointed by the finish, the rest of the game wasn't too bad. After a slow start that limited the Vikings to five points in the first ten minutes, McDonald, Milligen and Duske all hit shots to make it 13-11 with 8:23 left in the half.
The rest of the half, the Vikings got 10 points from Gus Kueber, who had 11 in the game, and eight in the half from Milligen, eventually taking a 29-24 lead at the half.
In the second half, Milligen continued to find his shot and got help from Patrick Rogers, Anthony Saavedra and Duske, who had 10 second-half points.
It was play that left Kaminsky pleased.
"We played some really good basketball today, so I don't want to overlook that and I told the guys that when I went in the locker room," he said. "We really made them work to get good shots, we mixed defenses up. Offensively, I thought we had a little more patience, we just didn't make shots early. When we start making shots and get the ball inside and get some balance, we're a really good basketball team."
Milligen led the Vikings with 22 points and was followed by Duske with 15 and Kueber with 11.
Johnie Sanders led DSU with 16 followed by Hodges with 10.
The teams play again this weekend when VCSU travels to Dickinson for games with the Blue Hawks and Rocky Mountain College.