Mount Gilead was able to survive a slow start against visiting Northmor to manufacture a lead that stretched to as much as a 10-point margin in the fourth quarter.
They then had to overcome a furious rally down the stretch by the Golden Knights to pick up a 65-63 win and avenge a loss to their county rivals from earlier in the season.
With the score tied at 63 after Matthew Bland was able to bury a pair of free throws, Northmor missed two shots from the charity stripe with 6.3 seconds left in regulation. MG was able to gain possession and quickly scored on a bucket by Aaron Gannon. Northmor was able to get a time out with .7 seconds left on the clock.
They were able to lob a long inbounds pass into junior Grant Bentley, but his buzzer-beating three-pointer rimmed in and out, allowing MG to claim the win.
“That’s high school basketball,” said MG coach Dan Strasser. “That’s a classic county rivalry game. I’m sure it was enjoyable to watch as a spectator. It was a little stressful as a coach.”
The final play was especially stressful for Strasser.
“That was on there,” he said. “That was a great play design and shot — great look. Thank God it didn’t go in.”
Northmor coach Blade Tackett felt his team executed well on offense, but just couldn’t quite get the result they wanted.
“We have the ball for the last possession,” he said. “We execute one of our favorite plays, we get the look that we wanted and we get Grant Bentley to the line. If I could do it all over again, I’d do it the same way. We gamble on the entry, which allows them to get a lay-up. That hurts, but we got a .7 set, which is something we practice and we execute it to a T and get a good look and chance to win. That’s all we’re looking for as coaches — a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”
Northmor held the lead for most of the first quarter. After a pair of Bland shots gave MG an early 4-3 lead, the team got four points by Hunter Fulk in moving in front 13-9 after eight minutes of action.
Another shot by Fulk made it 15-9, but Bland would connect on a pair of three-pointers and two free throws to put the Indians in front 17-15. The Indian senior led all scorers with 35 points on the night.
“That’s Bland for you,” said Strasser. “We’ve seen that for a long time around here. He’s a bucket-getter. He made huge shots when we needed him to.”
The coach added that Northmor’s defense made it tough on his team to score in the early going.
“Northmor does a nice job in that 1-3-1 making it uncomfortable,” he noted. “It’s not every day you go against a 1-3-1. It takes a little time to get our offensive flow out of it, but guys started making shots and with defense and rebounding, we were able to transition and didn’t have to worry about the 1-3-1.”
The teams would battle for the lead the rest of the quarter, with a last-second shot by Cameron Vickers putting Mount Gilead up 25-24 going into the half.
Back-to-back shots by Bentley in the third quarter turned a 30-26 deficit into a tie game, but MG would pull away a bit in the third, leading by as many as seven points in a quarter that would end with the team up 47-42.
With the score 49-44 in favor of the Indians, a three-pointer by Bland and two points from Carter Kennon made it a 10-point game with 6:29 to play. However, Northmor would come back to make it a tight game down the stretch.
“We called that full time out when they went up 10 and the kids showed a lot of heart,” he said. “We could have rolled over and let a team that was hot stay hot. Our kids don’t quit ever, so I wasn’t surprised that we battled back. We’ve got a lot of toughness. I don’t know that we were sharp tonight in terms of mental execution, but in terms of effort and heart, it’s always there.”
The team also was boosted in the second half by the presence of senior Max Lower on the floor after he’d missed a number of games due to a shoulder injury.
“For him to come in with a bum shoulder and bum wrist and give us a little spark, I think that was good,” said Tackett.
Trailing 61-54 with 3:59 remaining, the Golden Knights got two points from Drew Hammond and five straight by Bentley to tie the game at 51. Two free throws by Hammond with 2:02 on the clock gave Northmor a two-point lead, but Mount Gilead would rally in the final moments to pull out the win.
Bentley hit three three-pointers in leading the team with 26 points. Fulk added 18, while Hammond scored nine. Tackett noted that free throw struggles over the night hurt his team.
“We were 10-of-21 from the line and they’re 11-of-11,” he said. “It continues to be one of the areas where we struggle. Tonight those free throws didn’t bounce our way, but in the future I think we’ll knock them down.”
Besides Bland’s 35, the Indians also got 15 by Kennon. The two players combined for seven three-pointers. Strasser said his team knew they had to be ready for Northmor.
“We weren’t satisfied with the way we played against Danville,” he said. “We knew Northmor obviously would be a huge game. They just beat Centerburg and they’ve been playing really good. We found a way. This is a huge win for us.”