The Bethel College men's basketball team went in to their Nov. 20 matchup against Spring Arbor wanting to make a statement.“We were ranked preseason number seven (in the Crossroads League)…we don’t plan on finishing seventh,” said junior center Taylor Kolbus. That message came in loud and clear after the Pilots dispatched the Cougars 74-71 in an absolute thriller. This was a big game for the Pilots for many different reasons. It was the first Crossroads League game of the season, Spring Arbor came in ranked no. 21 in Division II of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Pilots were looking to stay undefeated at home. With all the hype leading up to this game, one might think that the Pilots could have some first half jitters. But that was not the case. The Pilots pressure defense put them in control early on – at one point in the first half they held an 11-point lead. But poor perimeter shooting from the Pilots coupled with the equally stingy defense of the Cougars kept the score close as Bethel only held a five-point halftime lead. Juniors Ryan Benner and Darrell Hopkins paced the Pilots in scoring during the first half with eight points apiece. The second half saw the Cougars come out strong as they went on a scoring run of their own. Every time that it seemed like the Pilots were starting to pull away the Cougars would just keep coming back. The game was tight throughout the second half, but it was in the final minute that the excitement reached another level. The Pilots held a two-point lead when sophomore guard Zach Miller pulled up for a three. The shot rolled all the way around the rim but somehow missed. But Kolbus came down with a crucial offensive rebound and scored on a layup while being fouled. This gave the Pilots a 73-69 lead with 16 seconds left to play. However, Kolbus missed his free throw and the Cougars quickly made it down the court and scored cutting the lead to two. The Pilots now had the opportunity to inbound, and everyone in the building knew who they would try to get the ball to: Miller. The play worked just as Coach Mike Lightfoot drew it up – Miller got the ball and was quickly fouled. Now the Pilots had their best free throw shooter going to the line to ice the game away. First free throw…good. Everything was going as planned and now the Pilots held a 74-71 lead. One more free throw would make it a two-possession game. Second free throw…missed. The ball clanked off the rim and got tipped around before rolling out to half court amid a scrum of players. If the Cougars came up with it, they could go down the court and look for a game-tying three. But the Pilots came up with the loose ball and now they had two more free throws coming with only two seconds left to play. Who was shooting the free throws you ask? Yep, you guessed it: Miller. So now the lights-out shooter had two chances to put the game out of reach. It was almost inconceivable for Miller to miss one free throw in crunch time, but missing two more was absolutely out of the question…right? Wrong. Miller missed both free throws, giving the Cougars the chance for a last-second heave to tie the game. But Thanksgiving came early for the Pilots as the ball fell short making the final score Pilots 74 Cougars 71. After the game, the players and coaches knew that they dodged a bullet with the poor free throw shooting, but they were pleased with their ability to fight through it. “Zach Miller- he’s the guy we want at the line,” Benner said, “He’ll make that nine out of ten times, this just happened to be that one out of ten that he misses.” “I was just proud of our perserverance…we didn’t wilt, we didn’t fade, we stayed focused,” Lightfoot said. The Pilots were led in scoring by Benner who put in 15. Miller and senior forward Jordan Bowerman were close behind with 13 and 14, respectively. Sophomore guard Matt Schauss led the team with eight assists and Bowerman and Kolbus tied for the rebounding lead with eight. The win gave the Pilots some momentum as they went into a short Thanksgiving break before the Crossroads League schedule heats up once again. “The turkey’s gonna taste a lot better on Thursday,” Lightfoot said. The Pilots now stand at 6-2 with a 5-0 home record and a 1-0 record in the Crossroads League. Their next game comes on the road against Crossroads League rival Goshen on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 7 P.M.