DETROIT — The Detroit Titans had fought hard, but with a little more than 40 seconds left on the clock, they still trailed by four.
They didn’t need a miracle, but the Titans did need of a clutch play to finally balance the scoreboard after trailing by 10 points with about 3 minutes to play.
Enter Ray McCallum Jr. stage right. The ever-improving sophomore caught a pass on the baseline, pump faked once and then drove hard to the lane.
“I just knew I had to get a bucket, that I had to be aggressive and get to the rack,” McCallum said. “I kind of got some contact before I really got off the ground, but my eyes never left the target.
“I practice that shot a lot, out early working every day. I think that just carried over to tonight.”
McCallum’s double-clutch, contact-riddled layup hung for just a moment on the rim before falling, bringing the deficit to two.
The Titans had the win in the cross hairs, and after McCallum fed Eli Holman for an easy dunk to close the gap to one, they forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass.
Jason Calliste then curled around a wall of players and got bumped, drawing a foul before the ball could even be inbounded. And in a slight plot twist, based on the script from the night, a cool Calliste hit both his free throws to give the Titans the lead with 11.8 seconds left and ultimately the victory.
The Titans, riding high after a road win against Butler, came back home on Friday night, and barely eked out a win over University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 58-57, at Calihan Hall.
And while the win wasn’t exactly cover-model pretty, it made up for the ugly exterior with a pulse-pounding finish.
But for the end result, the win would have surely been defined by the games statistics, or lack thereof.
The Titans (14-12, 8-6 Horizon League) shot just 36 percent from the field, 64 percent from the free-throw line and a frigid 0-of-13 from three-point territory. In fact, they led for a mere 37 seconds the entire game — for a 25-second stretch midway through the first half and for the game’s final 11.8 seconds.
But as coach Ray McCallum emphasized, it’s the score at the end that matters.
“It was an important basketball game for both teams, and I think you saw the intensity tonight,” coach McCallum said. “It was a struggle. They came in as an experienced team on the road, in a week when a lot of teams have won on the road.
“That’s what time of the year it is, and everybody puts their best foot forward.”
The Titans were thoroughly outplayed through the first half, getting outshot (50 percent to 34 percent) and missing nearly half of their free throws (56 percent from the line).
They also deviated from their recent discipline — turning the ball over 13 times in the first half alone — while other bad habits persisted, like allowing 5-of-10 shooting from three-point range in the first half.
The game appeared over after Milwaukee extended their lead to 10 with 2:54 to play, but senior Chase Simon hit two free throws to bring the Titans within eight.
A minute later, McCallum stole the ball at mid-court and finished with an easy dunk to make it 53-48.
The Titans then forced a steal off the inbounds pass.
Holman, who was nearly invisible until the closing stretch, made his presence felt when it mattered most. He scored seven of his 11 points in the final 4 minutes, including the put-back that brought the Titans to within three with 57 seconds to play.
His toughness down low helped establish a defensive tone elsewhere in the final minutes.
“I told the guys it would be a 40 minute game,” coach McCallum said. “We didn’t have the edge for most of the night, especially coming off the Butler win.
“I think we came in with confidence, and Milwaukee knocked us around. Luckily we had all 40 minutes.”