SPARTA — In their final year as part of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference, the Northmor boys’ basketball team claimed at least a share of their first-ever league title in dramatic fashion.
Competing at Highland on Thursday, after trailing virtually the entire game, the Knights rallied for a 42-41 win on a Tyler Kegley free throw with 1.8 seconds left. Northmor had taken a late lead, but a Mack Anglin three-pointer with 34 seconds on the clock had tied the score at 41.
Highland would then get the ball back and had multiple attempts to score, but could not convert. Kegley finally grabbed the ball for Northmor and was fouled. After missing his first attempt, he drained the second and, shortly thereafter, the Knights were celebrating the win and a share of the title.
“You notice I didn’t call a time out,” said Knight coach Zach Ruth about Kegley’s free throw attempts. “That’s how confident I was. We’ve been just grinding out our last seven wins. We just had to stay committed to our plan. They were getting frustrated, but I said ‘Good things will happen.’”
A big part of the reason for Northmor’s frustration was the defense of Highland. The Scots rode six points by Mack Anglin and four by Quin Winkelfoos to a 12-8 lead after the first quarter.
“The whole game was pressure,” said Ruth. “We started out down 8-2 and ‘Meechie’ (Demetrius Johnson) went out with two fouls.”
Highland continued to hold their advantage throughout the second quarter. After Winkelfoos and Brock Pletcher traded three-pointers to open the period, the Scots got five straight points from Kaleb Phillips to jump out to a 20-11 lead. Back-to-back shots by Kyle Kegley and Alijah Keen brought Northmor within five, but they would not be able to get any closer and trailed by six at the half.
After watching his team shoot 77 percent in winning at Northmor earlier in the year, Scot coach Chris Powell simply felt things didn’t work out for his offense in the rematch.
“We didn’t shoot it as much,” he said. “I think we shot it four times in the third quarter. They did a good job of getting up and making us work for everything. I told the guys this is the type of game where you have to make every play.”
While the Scots didn’t get much going offensively in the third quarter, their defense did the same to Northmor, as both teams only scored eight points during those eight minutes. Four points by Tyler Kegley and two each from Keen and Pletcher brought the Knights within a 27-26 score, but Highland finished the period with a three-pointer by Phillips and a basket from Winkelfoos to lead by six going into the fourth.
A basket by Phillips to open the period put Highland in front 34-26, but Northmor rallied with four points by Keen and two from Johnson to close within two at the 6:17 mark. Over the next three minutes, both teams only got two points each, something that bothered Powell due to his squad missing four free throws in that span.
“That’s been our season,” he said. “In six games, we’ve had good fourth-quarter leads and don’t make the right plays at the right time. We don’t make free throws and had two or three looks at the end, but don’t capitalize on them. If we make two free throws, we push it back up, but miss them and it’s a lifeline for the other team.”
Northmor found that lifeline in the final three minutes of the game, getting two free throws each from Tyler Kegley and Pletcher, as well as a Kyle Kegley basket to finally move in front by a 40-36 score.
Highland would get two foul shots from Thomas Wheeler and a three-pointer by Anglin to tie the score at 41, but Northmor won in the final seconds to finish with at least a share of the title, depending on the result of Saturday’s game where Highland visits Cardington, who is 10-3 in the Blue, as compared to Northmor’s 11-3.
For the Scots, Powell had hopes of his team being in the league title race, as wins over Northmor and Cardington would have placed them in a tie. Now, they have to try to rebound against the Pirates to take positive momentum into the postseason.
“We don’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about it,” he said. “Cardington has to beat us to take care of their business. We need a good game to get momentum for the tournament. It’s not like we were overmatched. We just have to make plays. That’s what February and March basketball is all about.”
As for the Northmor coach, Ruth was in the mood to celebrate a historic win. “I’m going to be like Phil Jackson and say we’re going for another one next year,” he said of the league title. “The only thing missing is if we were home, we’d be cutting the nets down. I’m loving it and want to soak it in.”
For Northmor, Keen finished with 16 points, Tyler Kegley had 10 and Pletcher added eight. Highland got 14 from Phillips, 12 from Anglin and nine by Winkelfoos.