If college basketball was a 35-minute affair instead of 40, the Harper College men's basketball team would have come away with its first home conference win of the season Wednesday night at the Sports and Wellness Center in Palatine.
Instead, those last five minutes change things around, and the Hawks suffered a 63-58 defeat against Rock Valley in North Central Community College Conference play.
After Harper's Louis Erkins scored late in the second half to give the Hawks a 56-48 lead, Rock Valley came storming back.
The Golden Eagles seemed to get a sense or urgency from the deficit and started to connect on shots. Girbran Smith (12 points) threw the first punch in the sequence that eventually knocked out the Hawks (6-15 overall, 0-5 N4C). His bucket sparked an 11-1 run.
Khalil Valentine came away with one of his 4 steals, leading to a layup and 3-point play with 2:07 left to pull Rock Valley (15-6, 4-1) even at 56-56. The tie marked the fist time the two teams had been square since the 13:27 mark.
Smith against answered the call down the stretch for second-year coach Julian Springer's squad. The only Harper field goal in the final two minutes came from Shonnon Barfield (team-high 18 points).
"I took what the defense gave me," Barfield said.
One positive for the Hawks was that they had their first lead at halftime of a home game this season.
The Golden Eagles made the Hawks work for their lead. Six-foot-7 sophmore forward Elijah Williams scored 10 of the first 18 RVC points to give Rock Valley a 18-9 lead early.
"I saw a lot of gaps in their defense," said Williams, who finished with a game-high 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds. "(Harper) sent the double (team) too slow -- I took advantage of that."
Harper sophomore Brian Battaglia (Elk Grove) suffered an apparent shoulder injury while tangling with an RVC player for a loose ball in the first half. Battaglia did not not return the rest of the way and was scheduled to have his shoulder checked after the game.
Despite the loss of Battaglia, the Hawks seem to gain confidence and produced a 7-0 run capped by a Connor Miklasz 3-pointer with 5:15 remaining in the half to trim the Golden Eagles lead to 18-16. The first-year guard from Hersey finished with 11 points.
Freshman John Lorenz (Elk Grove) filled in nicely for Battaglia, finishing 4-for-11 from the field with 9 points.
Last week, Harper College opted to discontinue its football program, leaving Erkins disappointed. He also played for the football team.
"Everygody is real upset about what happened," Erkins said of his teammates' reaction. "It is what it is -- you have to move on."