Nursing an eight-point lead with less than five minutes left in regulation, Fort Dodge head coach Tom Daniel leaned heavily on his five senior starters to bring a share of the CIC Northern Division championship home.
Instead, it was an Ames senior who delivered the clutch performance at winning time that Daniel had been looking for from his squad.
Sam Straub scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, igniting a devastating run to end both the game and the Dodgers' title hopes in a 65-54 Little Cyclone victory here on Friday. The rally clinched a second consecutive outright league crown for Ames (11-9 overall, 6-0 in the CIC North), which scored 23 of the contest's final 27 points to again keep Fort Dodge (10-8, 4-2) on the outside looking in.
''There are going to be a lot of what-ifs and plenty of regret after this one,'' Daniel said. ''It was right there in front of us. All we had to do was protect that lead on our home court and finish. Instead, we came unraveled. And Sam Straub - you have to respect that kind of performance.
''They wanted it more than we did. He wanted it more than we did. That's the bottom line: the more deserving team won this basketball game, as much as it hurts to say.''
A basket by Andrew Stover and consecutive three-pointers from JC Hatcher - the second coming from nearly 25 feet out - put the Dodgers ahead 50-42 with 5:05 to go. That's when Fort Dodge fell into an untimely cold spell, going four and a half minutes without a field goal as the tide turned.
AMES 65, FORT DODGE 54
Ames - Sam Straub 10-22 3-4 27, Spencer Shane 2-5 6-6 12, Javan White 5-7 1-1 11, Sam Rathe 2-6 2-2 7, Colby Shane 2-8 0-0 6, Micheal Frankl 0-0 2-2 2, Erik Dempsey 0-2 0-0 0, Walker Weiss 0-0 0-0 0, Joey Stohlmeyer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-50 14-15 65.
Fort Dodge - Blake Wilder 5-12 6-9 16, JC Hatcher 5-18 3-4 16, Zach Martinson 5-7 0-0 11, Krunal Thakor 1-5 0-0 2, Cody Rivers 0-0 0-0 0, Andrew Stover 3-3 0-0 7, Sam Kolacia 1-2 0-0 2, Kyle Beisch 0-0 0-0 0, Marquan Clayton 0-0 0-0 0, Cody Ellis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-47 9-13 54.
Quarter scores: Fort Dodge led 16-12; Ames led 31-30; Fort Dodge led 42-38. Three-point goals: Ames 9-22 (Straub 4-8, C. Shane 2-7, S. Shane 2-4, Rathe 1-2, Dempsey 0-1); Fort Dodge 5-16 (Hatcher 3-10, Stover 1-1, Martinson 1-2, Thakor 0-2, Kolacia 0-1). Turnovers: Ames 10, Fort Dodge 12. Total fouls: Ames 10, Fort Dodge 14.
A triple from Spencer Shane, back-to-back Straub treys, and a conventional three-point play by 6-foot-7 junior Javan White made it 54-50 Ames with 1:36 to go. White then dunked at the one-minute mark to virtually seal the deal.
The Little Cyclones battled back after making just three of their 16 shot attempts and scoring only seven points in the third period. The fourth quarter was as close to perfect as possible for Ames, which had 27 points by making 7 of 8 field goals and 10 of 11 free throws.
''We were in good shape after a really solid defensive third quarter and a strong first few minutes in the fourth, but things fell apart on both ends of the court and we just plain weren't tough enough - physically or mentally,'' Daniel said. ''We've walked away from losses to Ames the last two years feeling like we could have won. I'm not necessarily thinking that right now, because for as much as we did to give this one away late, they just plain took it from us and took it to us. Their seniors refused to lose. Ours didn't show that same sense of urgency.''
The first half followed a similar pattern, with the Dodgers jumping ahead 16-9 in the opening period and 28-17 with 4:47 remaining before the intermission. Ames responded with an 11-0 burst, though, and a Straub trey put the Little Cyclones up heading into the locker room for the first time since the 4:27 mark of the first quarter.
''Again, we got up, got too comfortable and started to coast,'' Daniel said. ''It's really disappointing to be this deep into a season and expect teams to just give up when they're down by double digits - especially in a game that meant as much as this did to Ames. We talked about how big this one was for us, but I'm sure (the Little Cyclones) felt the exact same way.
''They did the little things and showed the kind of perseverance it takes when you get into one-and-done type of settings. Ames deserves the credit, and now we have to regroup, find some momentum in the last week (of the regular season), and get back on track for the (substate round).''
Blake Wilder and Hatcher had 16 points each for Fort Dodge, though the duo made only 10 of their 30 attempts from the floor. Zach Martinson added 11, while Stover came off the bench to score seven points and pull down six rebounds.
''Andrew gave us quality minutes,'' Daniel said. ''I was very pleased with his effort.''
The 6-foot-3 Straub, a Southern Illinois University football recruit, is averaging over 20 points per game this year. He misfired on all six of his shots in the third quarter last night, but responded by going 4-for-4 on field goals and 3 of 4 at the charity stripe over the final eight minutes.
Straub had 74 points in his last three outings against Fort Dodge, including 54 total in his final two trips to the Dodger gym.
Ames has now won five straight and seven of nine overall since a four-game slid in mid-January.
The Dodgers visit Humboldt (13-6) on Monday and Des Moines Hoover (11-8) Tuesday.