"To be honest, if we don't start playing better defense, all this talk about us winning a conference championship is just shallow words," Mason said.
Rhodes turned to its defense to win the game. The winners went to a half-court trap after falling behind 69-55. They forced three turnovers in a key stretch in the final three minutes that got them in position for a game-tying shot by Matthew Jakes with 1.9 seconds to play that knotted the score 73-73.
The Colonels led 73-66 after two free throws by James Booker with 2:06 left, but never scored again in regulation. A goal by Rami Almefty, who had a game-high 32 points, and basket by Kevin Campion after a Centre turnover made it 73-71 with 1:32 left.
Centre missed two 3-point shots and Rhodes got the ball with 30.9 seconds left. That's when Jakes wound up with the ball inside against Booker and scored over him. Jakes, who had 22 points, did it twice more to open overtime and gave Rhodes a 77-73 advantage it never surrendered.
"That wasn't exactly what we had in mind on the last play. We wanted to get it to Rami, but he made the right pass," Rhodes coach Herb Hilgeman, a former Centre assistant, said. "Jakes hit a tough shot, and we went right back to him in overtime.
"This was really a huge win for us. We lost Friday at Sewanee, but we made shots and played great defense today. Still, we were fortunate to get the win."
Rhodes controlled the overtime
Rhodes controlled the overtime. Centre was just 2-for-9 from the field in the extra period and made several questionable decisions on offense. Rhodes went 11-for-14 at the foul line in the overtime to keep the game just out of Centre's reach.
"We just are not doing a very good job of playing consistent defense," Mason said. "We only play defense in spurts. We don't defend every possession like we should.
"Rhodes was the aggressor in overtime today and made the plays to win. The team that deserve to win the game won it."
Freshman center Reggie Magnusson led Centre with 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists. He was 8-for-16 from the field.
The Colonels had five players in double figures and had nine players get assists in the game. Booker was 5-for-8 from the field for 15 points while Coy Zerhusen had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot. Guard John Ortega was 3-for-4 from 3-point range and had 13 points. Jason Atwell had 14 points, but was just 3-for-10 on 3-point shots.
"We did have some guys play well. I was pleased with Coy. He had a good all-around game," Mason said. "Reggie had a good game. Ortega had not been shooting well, but he did today."
Yet Centre fell out of a lead in the SCAC because it couldn't stop Rhodes when it mattered most.
"It's no secret that defense wins most games," Mason said. "We're a good team having a good season. But to be the team we want, we've got to stop talking about getting better on defense and start getting better."