Highlanders fall 97-94 in overtime thriller
With just under 3 minutes left and an 11-point lead at home against league rival Yerington, it appeared the Highlanders were well on their way to a second consecutive win.
Instead, missed shots, big plays by Yerington, and inconsistent officiating, allowed the Lions to finish regulation on a 10-3 run to tie the game at 81 and force overtime. Yerington then went on to take a 97-94 victory after the extra period.
“We handed that game to them,” said Head Coach Tim Kelly. “Am I completely disappointed in myself and our execution late? Yes. But do I think it was added (to) with two incompetent officials? One hundred percent. We had two guys that shouldn’t have done a varsity basketball game.”
In order to force overtime, Yerington rallied back from a 20-point deficit midway through the third quarter. Junior David McFalls keyed the comeback by making numerous difficult shots and scoring on drives to the bucket, as Yerington outscored Incline 34-13 in the fourth quarter to tie the contest with little time left to play.
“We allowed them to get to the cup to easily,” said Kelly on the last quarter of play, adding that a lack of defensive rebounded hurt the Highlanders down the stretch.
The final moments of the fourth quarter would be hectic with McFalls driving to the basket for the game winner only to be turned away by junior Liam Nolan-Bowers. Incline recovered the loose ball with only a couple of seconds left, and looked for an outlet, but Yerington junior Steven Keats stepped in front of the pass and buried a shot from the free throw line. Fortunately for the Highlanders, the officials ruled the buzzer sounded before the ball left Keats’ hand.
The teams traded baskets to start overtime, with McFalls scoring four quick points for Yerington, and junior Ian Smith and junior Jackson Littleton scoring for Incline.
With the game tied at 87-87, the Lions missed an attempt at the basket, but grabbed the offensive board and kicked it out for an open 3-pointer to make the score 90-87. The Highlanders then turned the ball over, giving Keats a layup and the Lions a five-point advantage.
After Incline split a pair of free throws on the next possession, Yerington scored to go up by six. Senior Will Stranzl then made it a one-possession game by draining a 3-pointer, but Yerington knocked down two free throws to push the lead back to five. After Incline missed a 3-pointer, Yerington split the next trip to the free-throw line to go up six with little time remaining.
The Highlanders would get one more 3-pointer, scoring off an inbounds play to Nolan-Bowers to cut the lead to three. From there, Yerington successfully inbounded the ball as the final seconds ticked off the clock with the officials ruling a foul by Incline came too late.
“If this is the effort we give, I’m excited,” Kelly said. “This effort is the best effort we’ve given. They played great, it’s just little things here or there, sometimes this happens — momentum catches you and you cant get her back.”
Both squads put up season highs in scoring for the game, but none were better on the court than Yerington’s McFalls. The 5-foot, 10-inch junior was a nightmare for Incline during the game, dropping 46 points on 18 of 28 shooting. Incline often had McFalls well defended, but the Yerington player’s ability to create and hit shots from awkward angles, while also being tough to stop off the dribble, made for a difficult matchup for the Incline defense.
Yerington also got big games out of junior Moses Bobb with 20 points, and senior Kevin Kirk with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
“No. 1 (McFalls) and No. 22 (Kirk) are two of the best players in the conference,” Kelly said. “They did a phenomenal job. They never stopped playing … (Kirk) plays as hard as anyone I’ve seen in this league.”
Incline’s Stranzl had a terrific game as well with 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting. Stranzl also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Smith was next for Incline with 19 points on the afternoon, followed by junior Johnny Redfern with 16 points, Littleton with 15 points, and Nolan-Bowers with 10 points.
The inconsistency in the officiating left Kelly frustrated by the time the final buzzer sounded. The referees allowed a very physical second half, with several no-calls on contact, until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime.
“For no fouls to be called from the 7 (minute) mark or the 6 (minute) mark all the way until under a minute to go, and all of a sudden we finally get the three fouls to put us into one-and-one with under a minute to go, how both teams that play physical and aggressive aren’t into the one-and-one or two shots at that point of the game, is completely ridiculous,” Kelly said.
“To change how you referee with just under a minute to go, just to get us to one-and-one, is silly.”
While the officiating was one aspect of Incline’s loss, Kelly shouldered the blame for the defeat while praising the effort of his players.
“People saw glimpses of how good we are,” he said. “And they saw us not finish well. I didn’t prepare them to finish a battle like that. That loss is completely on myself. I should have prepared them for a game like that, and I didn’t.
“I thought our guys did a great job, but we need to get better at taking care of the basketball against teams that grab and shove and push — that’s basketball.”
Incline (4-11, 1-3 Northern League) will next face White Pine (5-9, 1-4 Northern League) at home on Friday, Jan. 12, at 6 p.m.