Wolverines live to play another game
It may have been their last home game of the season, but thanks to a clutch shot by sophomore guard Brain McMullen, it’s not their last game, as the Truckee Wolverines beat the rival North Tahoe Lakers on Saturday in dramatic overtime fashion, 58-55.
The win propelled the Wolverines into the NIAA 3A Northern Zone Playoffs at Lowry High School later this week while also ending the Lakers’ season.
Truckee will play third-seeded Dayton on Thursday. The winner moves on to face second-seeded Lowry.
With the sixth and final spot in the playoffs at stake on Saturday, it was a do-or-die game for both teams.
And with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines down by three, McMullen did, hitting a desperation three pointer from the top of the key to send the game into overtime.
The Wolverines won the game, which included six lead changes, with their season scoring leader David Larson contributing two crucial assists in overtime, sophomore forward J.R. Murphy assuming the role as the primary offensive threat and McMullen being the unlikely hero.
“We wanted to get a three point shot off, but [McMullen] was supposed to penetrate and dish to Dave [Larson] or J.R [Murphy] for a three-point shot,” Head Coach Mike Gray said of McMullen’s last-second shot in regulation. “When he shot it, I was up saying ‘No! No!’ and then when it went in I was saying ‘Good shot.'”
In the extra period, Truckee scored the first four points and opened up a 56-52 lead thanks to the passing of Larson, who twice found forward Jason Ames open under the basket.
The Wolverines wouldn’t score again until the final second of overtime, while the Lakers, with their season on the line, orchestrated a frenzied final minute of play in which they forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions by the Wolverines.
Still, North Tahoe wasn’t able to get any closer than 56-55 and with 10 seconds left in overtime had to foul McMullen.
McMullen went to the line but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Still, he was able to apply enough defensive pressure on Lakers’ guard Tony Verutti that he lost control of the ball just past midcourt as he was streaking down the sideline in hopes of getting off a final shot.
The questionable no call by the referees had the Lakers’ bench furious, but Gray thought it was the right call.
“I thought they were going to call something, but it looked to me like [Verutti] was more out bounds than anything. But it was a tough game to call,” Gray said
Ames hit two free throws with .3 seconds left to account for the final margin of victory.
“I really proud of those kids, they really stepped up,” Gray said afterward. “I was happy for the players, to win a game like that on their home gym, after all we have been through this year. I told them all season that in sports, and in basketball, you are going to have some good times and some bad times. I’m just happy this was a good time.”
Truckee led 29-27 at the half thanks in large part to the outside shooting of Murphy, who finished with a game-high 18 points, including two three pointers.
Despite being the tallest player on the team, Gray said he positioned Murphy outside because of the match up problems he presents.
“It causes a match up problem for a big kid trying to guard J.R. if he’s outside.
J.R. played a really good game, his best game of the year. I don’t think he wanted to lose that game,” Gray said.
With Larson also behind the three-point line for much of the game, it left the control of the boards to other Wolverines.
“We left that job to Jason Ames and Jamie Mahler,” Gray said.
And while we are a long way from New England, North Tahoe players and fans now know what its like to root and play for the Boston Red Sox.
Needing only one win in their final three games to secure the sixth and final playoff spot in the playoffs, the Lakers dropped all three.
The Lakers could have made Saturday’s game a moot point if they had won either of their games against ROP Rams last Wednesday or Fernley Vaqueros last Friday.
But Wednesday, the Lakers fell to the Rams 64-52, while at the same time Fernley was beating Truckee, despite Larson’s season-high 31 points.
That left North Tahoe a game and a half ahead of the Wolverines on Friday night. If they had beaten the Vaqueros in Fernley, they would have wrapped up the final spot.
But the Wolverines victory left both teams with identical 5-11 records in league.
The number of wins each team had against the other playoff teams determined the tiebreaker.
Truckee had two-against Dayton and ROP-while North Tahoe only had one-against Fernley earlier in the year.