GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Andrew Merlo and Phil Perry slowly walked off the court at Bream Gymnasium on Wednesday night.
Merlo glanced up into the rafters. Perry kept his head down as he approached his teammates in front of the bench, one giving him a light pat on the head.
The pair of McDaniel seniors had done all they could to try to complete a sizable comeback against Gettysburg in their Centennial Conference tournament play-in matchup. But at the end, the Green Terror's late push came up a little short.
After cutting a 13-point deficit to four in the final minutes, McDaniel failed to snap its three-game losing streak and fell to the Bullets, 53-45, to end their season.
"We didn't want to quit," Perry said. "The playoff atmosphere in here, 13 points, we knew we had enough time. We were confident in making a comeback, and we made some shots down the stretch. But they made some shots, too."
McDaniel (14-12) trailed 40-27 with under nine minutes to go when it began to finally rally back. Merlo hit a 3-pointer from the left corner while getting fouled, completed the four-point play at free-throw line, and cut the deficit to 40-31 with 8 minutes, 25 seconds to go.
Two possessions later, Perry scored on a layup and Tim Stewart scored the next two times down the court to cut it to 44-37 with 6:12 remaining.
Then, Perry took over. He knocked down a pair at the free-throw line with 4:06 to go. He drove and completed a three-point play with 3:04 remaining. And then he hit a rare 3-pointer from the right corner off a dish from Merlo with 2:14 to go to cut the Bullets' lead to 49-45.
"When we made that run, I thought we were going to win the game," Merlo said. "We had the momentum."
Perry got fouled again and went to the line with 1:35 to go, still down four. But the Terror's biggest Achilles' heel showed itself again. Perry missed both to finish off a 4-for-9 team performance on free throws, for McDaniel, which entered the game shooting 58.4 percent from the line, third-worst in NCAA Division III.
And with under 25 seconds to go, Perry found Merlo in the right corner for a wide-open 3. But the shot went out, and the Bullets made four free throws in the final 21.9 seconds to advance to the tournament semifinals.
Merlo led the Terror with 14 points, Perry scored 12, and Stewart added 12 and seven rebounds.
"I'm proud of the guys for battling all the way until the end," McDaniel coach Kevin Curley said. "Obviously we got down 13 in a playoff game where it's one-and-done in a pressure situation, and that game could've gone to a 20-point game. And the fact that guys were able to show enough poise and toughness to be able to battle back and give us a chance to win is a testament to these guys."
Kevin Gladstone led Gettysburg (15-11) with 17 points and Pete Christ poured in 11 coming off the bench.
The Green Terror had their clear ups and downs throughout the season. They had huge wins over nationally-ranked opponents Dickinson and Franklin & Marshall at home. And then there was their 3-10 road record, which contributed to their season-ending four game losing streak.
But even though the season ended on a sour note, Perry said helping McDaniel make the playoffs for the fifth time in eight seasons, and second year in a row, was a big accomplishment.
"We're proud that we got to play today," Perry said. "There were a lot of teams that were done on Saturday. For me, as a senior, three extra days was more than I could've asked for in the first place."