With each 3-pointer that trimmed the deficit the Quincy University men's basketball team faced, the decibel level inside Pepsi Arena started climbing.
There was an announced crowd of 1,250 on hand for the Great Lakes Valley Conference showdown with McKendree, but in the midst of the Hawks' comeback, it felt like a packed house roaring.
"As loud as it's been all year," Quincy junior guard Demetrius Houston said.
It kept getting louder and louder.
The Hawks hit three consecutive 3-pointers in an 81-second span as part of an 11-0 run that tied the game at 107 with 47.1 seconds remaining in regulation. They took the lead on the next possession as Ryan Briscoe made a pair of free throws with 32.1 seconds left and won it 127-120 in overtime, finishing the regular season with victories in two of their final three games.
"It's the most fun I've had in a game all year, I can tell you that," Briscoe said.
Winning makes it better, but the effort, execution and camaraderie the Hawks showed would have left them proud of the way they battled regardless.
"Man, I've loved playing here," said senior guard Bobby Frasco, who played his final collegiate game. "It's so fun. You could see the fan support today. That was just great."
It gave the Hawks a true homecourt advantage when they needed it most.
"It was loud today," Frasco said. "Finally, it was loud. We were able to make it loud."
Finishing at .500
The official standings on the GLVC website don't reflect it, but the Hawks used Saturday's victory to give themselves a leg up in the league's Central Division. By sweeping McKendree and winning two of their final three regular-season games, the Hawks went 4-4 against Central Division foes. Only Maryville, which won the division, had a better divisional record.
Quincy finished 5-13 overall in the GLVC, which was the fourth-best conference record among the division's five teams. However, Quincy split with both Missouri-St. Louis and Illinois-Springfield and gave itself a recruiting tool with the .500 record in division play.
Houston, there are no problems
The Hawks trailed 14-8 four minutes into the game when Houston got on a roll the Bearcats had no answer for. He connected on five consecutive shots, scored 11 consecutive points and gave Quincy a 19-18 lead when his personal hot streak ended.
"I got in a great rhythm," Houston said. "My teammates freed me up a lot, and I got a lot of open jump shots at the beginning of the game. That got me going."
Houston never lost that rhythm.
He finished with a career-high 34 points, going 12 of 21 from the field and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed six rebounds, handed out five assists and committed just two turnovers.
It was the 10th time in the last 11 games the Birmingham, Ala., product scored in double figures, and he finished the season with a team-leading 14.5 points per game.
"He finished tonight like the kid I thought we were getting," QU coach Ryan Hellenthal said. "I'm so proud of him."
'I saw a look in their eyes'
When Houston drove the right side of the lane and scored with 3:01 remaining in regulation, Hellenthal immediately called timeout. The Hawks trailed 107-98 and he wanted to make sure they set up properly on the defensive end.
"I said, 'We've been here before,'" Hellenthal said.
Indeed they had been. Trailing by 18 points with three minutes to play at Missouri Western in November, the Hawks went on a 14-0 run and eventually trimmed the deficit to two in the final 10 seconds.
"It was a fierce fight to the finish," Hellenthal said.
The Hawks lost that game 63-61, but Hellenthal sensed something different this time.
"I saw a look in their eyes that they weren't quite ready to be done yet," Hellenthal said. "I kind of fed off that and kept them positive. I just said, 'Let's go down and make the next play, get the next stop.'"
Despite giving up two offensive rebounds on McKendree's ensuing possession, the Hawks kept the Bearcats from scoring. It was the second of five consecutive empty possessions for McKendree, while Quincy scored on five consecutive possessions to ultimately pull ahead 109-107 with 32.1 seconds left.
"We made some positive plays and it kind of snowballed," Hellenthal said.
Four different Hawks scored in that stretch. Three different players grabbed rebounds. And everyone played a role defensively.
"We go out there and we play for each other," Houston said. "Someone is going to make a play. Eventually, we're going to end up with a great shot because we're playing for each other."
Michael sets McKendree scoring record
Hellenthal had an inkling McKendree junior guard Nate Michael would have a solid performance Saturday.
In fact, Michael somewhat forecasted it.
After the Hawks won 69-67 at McKendree on Jan. 18, Michael was understandably upset. He scored 23 points, going 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line, but missed his last two shots in the final two minutes of the game. That opened the door for Quincy's Marcus Hinton to score with 1.4 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Hawks their first road victory of the season.
"After the game, (Michael) was disappointed," Hellenthal said. "He puts his arm around me going through the line and says, 'Coach, remember one thing, I'll be back in Quincy in a month.' I never forgot that. I knew he was going to bring it."
Oh, my, did he ever.
Michael broke the McKendree single-game scoring record, finishing with 51 points as he went 15 of 24 from the field, 6 of 11 from 3-point range and 15 of 17 from the free-throw line. He broke the previous record of 47 points set by Rich Herrin against Blackburn College in the 1955-56 season.
The son of former University of Illinois shooting guard Tom Michael, who is now the athletic director at Eastern Illinois University, Michael hit a jumper just inside the free-throw line with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.
However, he was limited to four points in the extra frame and missed two free throws with 57.3 seconds left and the Bearcats down by five.