NEW LONDON, Conn. -- Despite a game-high 29 points off the bench by sophomore Reed Buck and another 17 points by Zach Karczewski, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy dropped an 85-77 decision to archrival Coast Guard in a men's basketball game on Tuesday night.
The Mariners (2-2) grabbed a 71-70 lead with 2:56 remaining in the non-league encounter. But the Bears (4-1) sank 15-of-16 foul shots over the final 2:36 to ice the game as they outscored the visitors down the stretch, 15-6, as all of their points came from the line.
After senior Kevin Kerr's three-point shot gave Merchant Marine the one-point edge, junior Ed Gailor made two free throws with 2:36 left to boost Coast Guard into a 72-71 advantage that it would not relinquish. In fact, Gailor nailed 10-of-11 from the charity stripe in the final minutes.
Sophomore John Benedict dropped two from the line before Buck made one-of-two, bringing the Mariners to within 74-72 with 1:43 remaining. Some 32 seconds later, Coast Guard sophomore Kevin Sowers made two free throws to extend the lead to 76-72.
After his only miss of the game, Gailor, who finished with 14 points off the bench, sank seven consecutive foul shots over the final 48 seconds.
Sophomore Nick Sergio, who finished with seven points, led the Mariners with eight rebounds.
The confrontation turned out to be a game of spurts.
The Mariners found themselves with a 16-3 deficit with 14:13 remaining in the first half as the hosts sank eight of their first 10 shots while the Merchant Marines were only one of 10 from the field.
But the visitors went on a spurt of their own -- a 14-2 tear -- to move within 18-17 with 10:22 remaining in the half.
Then it was the Bears' turn to go on a roll as they outscored the Mariners, 16-2, to take a 34-19 advantage with 5:12 left in the half. Coast Guard led by as many as 21 points -- 45-24 with 2:06 to go before the Mariners connected on the final 10 minutes of the halftime to cut the lead to 45-34.
The Merchant Marines started the second half on a 20-1 tear as senior Patrick Farrell's three-point shot brought them within 46-44 with 17:30 remaining.
The Mariners took their first lead of the game at 51-50 as Sergio sank one-of-two foul shots with 12:46 left.
The teams battled back-and-forth with Coast Guard taking a pair of three-point leads, both times on three-pointers by junior Greg Marshall (team-high 20 points), the last at 65-62 with 5:20 remaining.
The Mariners grabbed a 68-67 edge on a layup by junior Josh Beck with 4:11 to go before freshman David Anderson tied the game with one-of-two free throws with 3:51 remaining. Sowers' layup gave the Bears a 70-68 edge with 3:09 left before Kerr's trey gave the Mariners their final lead at 71-70.
Anderson registered the second double-double of his career with 15 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Sowers finished with 15 points, four assists and six steals.
The Mariners shot 28-of-70 (40 percent) from the field while hitting 9-of-28 from three-point range. They outrebounded the Bears, 48-43, but the visitors made 16 turnovers while Coast Guard gave the ball away nine times.
Coast Guard shot a season-low 42.4 percent from the floor (28-66) while making 5-of-17 three-point attempts.
Photo: Reed Buck came off the bench to score 29 points for the Mariners. Photo by Shawn Antonelli