Basketball season ends at playoffs
February 20, 2002
After a dramatic overtime win over the rival North Tahoe Lakers in the last game of the regular season secured the Truckee Wolverines the sixth and final playoff spot in the NIAA 3A Northern Zone Playoffs, Head Coach Mike Gray said he told his team they were dangerous.
“We weren’t supposed to be [in the playoffs],” he said before heading to Lowry for the start of the zone tournament. “That makes us a dangerous team. Nobody thought we would even get there. I think our confidence is high right now.”
Last Thursday, the Dayton Dust Devils found out just how dangerous a team can be that has nothing to lose and everything to gain, as the favored Dust Devils barely escaped with a 72-65 overtime win against Truckee, ending the Wolverines’ year.
The Wolverines, led by freshman Jamie Mahler’s 22 points, not only came back from a 12-point second-half deficit, they took the lead with less than a minute remaining when Mahler scored on an offensive rebound.
Mahler’s put back gave the sixth-seeded Wolverines their first lead, 62-60, since the first quarter, and they appeared ready to steal the game and move into the second round.
After stopping the Dust Devils on their next possession, the Wolverines had the ball and the lead, but couldn’t handle the Dayton press.
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“We got nervous all year when we got pressed,” Gray said. “We needed to protect the ball better, because if we get the ball across half court, I think we win [the game]. All they could do was foul us.”
Instead, after regaining control of the ball, Dayton’s Chris Sawyer was fouled as he tried to penetrate the Wolverines’ 2-3 zone defense and went to the line with only 12 seconds remaining.
Sawyer, a poor foul shooter all season, sank both to send the game to overtime.
In the extra period, Dayton scored the first four points, before the Wolverines’ David Larson sank Truckee’s 11th and final three-point shot of the evening. Unfortunately, those were also the Wolverines’ only points in overtime.
The Wolverines’ no fear attitude was also evident in their live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three offensive scheme, where they relied on their shooting from behind the arc to negate Dayton’s size.
“When we shoot like that, we are a dangerous team,” Gray said afterward. “They thought they were just going to come out and have their way with us, but we jumped on them early.”
Gray employed the same strategy he used against the Lakers in the final regular season game on Feb. 9, when he pulled his two biggest players, J.R. Murphy and Larson, out behind the three-point line in order to create match up problems for the bigger players trying to guard them.
While that positioning allows the fleet-feeted Wolverines’ forwards the option of shooting a three-point shot or trying to take the defender off the dribble, it leaves the rebounding to shorter players, like Jason Ames and Mahler.
But on Thursday, the spread offense worked even better than it did against the Lakers because the sharp shooting Wolverines sank an improbable 11 three-pointers and Mahler corralled a game-high 14 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.
Dayton, the third seed, was probably the hottest team in the league after getting three of its starters back last month. The Dust Devils had won seven of their last eight games.
Despite the early exit from the tournament, Gray said there was a lot of pride in the Wolverine locker room after the game.
“I told them after the game to hold their heads high,” Gray said. “After all we went through this season, it was a big accomplishment just to get there.”