FARGO, N.D. -- In the final seconds of a wild double-overtime junior college basketball game that had a combined 310 points on the scoreboard, point guard Shawn Craig still thought he would win it for United Tribes Technical College, even though he had just one other teammate on the floor.
Craig and Trevor Shavehead were the lone Thunderbirds left after three of the five players on their roster fouled out. Craig's attempt to weave through three defenders failed and the ball was knocked away, costing the visiting Thunderbirds a chance to try a 3-point field goal that would have given them a one-point win Wednesday over the Dakota College at Bottineau Lumberjacks.
"If I could have split those defenders, I think I would have made that shot," Craig said. "For sure."
The Lumberjacks won 158-154 in a game with an unusual ending, at least in terms of who was on the floor.
The Thunderbirds were hoping to pull off a feat that looked all too familiar to Dakota College players like Joe Baker, whose dad played on a Lumberjacks team that nearly 30 years ago lost to a United Tribes squad that began with a total of five players and ended with three. That game is etched into the sporting annals of both schools.
"I thought about that game when we got down to four guys," said Tribes coach Pete Conway, a Blackfeet tribal member and former basketball standout at Montana State. "I was hoping we could repeat history."
By the time the game ended, the Thunderbirds had many Bottineau fans cheering for them. Many of the Dakota College football players came down afterward to shake their hands. Later, when the United Tribes players were eating their post-game meal at a local restaurant, Bottineau resident Brandy Rudland picked up the tab.
"When I watched the game I saw five kids play above and beyond," Rudland said. "They pushed themselves. They were very well coached and well disciplined. They were full of heart."
The Thunderbirds have been playing with five players on the roster for most of the last two months because of injuries, departures because of homesickness and academic issues that cropped up after the first semester. Referee Brent Engebretson said he and his two partners talked before the game and decided there would be no cheap fouls given for either team.
United Tribes had only 25 fouls to give. They wound up with 23.
"It was a lot of fun to watch those five, then four, then three," Engebretson said. "Then when they got down to two, you've got one guy inbounding and one guy trying to catch it, and they did it. Afterward, our thoughts were, one, we're finally done, and two, what just happened?"
The good news for United Tribes heading into the Dakota College game was that the 40-minute workouts in every game had the five players in good shape, so much so that they rarely practiced near the end of the season. The bad news was that the Lumberjacks love to run and average of 103 points per game.
There were eye-popping numbers when the marathon ended. Dakota College attempted 142 shots to 97 for United Tribes. J.J. Morris led the Jacks with 51 points. Augustine Mathias scored 48 points for United Tribes.
The Thunderbirds dominated early and had a 21-point lead with 12 minutes left in the game. The Lumberjacks did not take their first lead until 1:23 left in regulation.
United Tribes lost their first player to fouls in the last minute of regulation, which ended at 123-all. Preparing to start overtime with a 5-on-4 setup had both coaches scratching their heads. The Lumberjacks also had three players foul out, leading to 53 free throw attempts for United Tribes and forcing Jacks coach Brandon Colvin to dig into his reserves.
"You don't really prepare to play against four guys. They were just as confused as we were," Conway said, chuckling.
After the first OT ended at 138-all, United Tribes opened a 149-144 lead before their second player fouled out with 2:10 left. The Thunderbirds led 151-49 with 57 seconds showing when their third player picked up No. 5.
Conway could only smile.
"I thought I would try to check my assistant coach into the game," he said. "But he's already played two years here at United Tribes."