Luke McCarville hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with .8 seconds left to give the O’Hara Celtics a 53-50 West Central Conference win over Smith-Cotton on Tuesday.
The Tigers (6-13, 1-6 WCC) couldn’t get one last opportunity to tie the game. Chance Johnson caught the inbounds pass near mid-court, and a Celtics player made contact with him immediately, drawing a whistle, but ultimately the officials declared that it had happened after the buzzer and the game was over.
“I thought the kids played tough,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ray Hughes. “I thought we played good enough to win. A couple opportunities we let get away at the end. I’m excited to go into the locker room and get ready for (Wednesday) and get ready for Friday as well. We’ll take this one, tough loss, and brush it off and go back to work.”
The fourth quarter saw four lead changes and four ties as momentum changed back and forth. After Spencer Ruckman tied the game at 50 with 43 seconds to play, O’Hara held for the final shot and got the ball to McCarville.
“It was against the man and we didn’t see they would come out in zone,” said O’Hara coach Mark Scanlon. “We didn’t want to take a shot before three seconds.”
Entering the fourth down by a point, Dante Scroggins put Smith-Cotton ahead with a pair of free throws. After O’Hara tied the game with a free throw, Alex Wagner hit a 3-pointer to put the Celtics in front 44-41. Johnson cut that lead to one with a jumper and Jacob Bergman tied the game with a free throw.
O’Hara again jumped in front with a putback before Bergman converted an offensive rebound into a 3-point play and a 47-46 Smith-Cotton lead. A layup and free throws put O’Hara in front 50-47 with 55 seconds left, but the Tigers pushed the ball down the court and found Ruckman to tie it.
“We didn’t play good in the second half,” Scanlon said. “They outplayed us. I’m just happy we scratched and fought. We’ve been in a lot of these games and it’s nice to win one like this.”
The furious fourth quarter came after a Smith-Cotton rally in the third. O’Hara took a 36-22 lead into halftime before Dalton Zaremba led the charge in the third quarter, scoring 13 points for the Tigers including a steal and a layup in the final minute of the third to cut the Celtics’ lead to 40-39. Zaremba also hit three 3-pointers in the quarter, two of them from the same spot in front of the Smith-Cotton bench.
“We had noticed that he was open,” Hughes said. “They were leaving him open. They were helping, doubling down on Jake and giving CJ a lot of attention and Dalton was open. We wanted him to get more shots in the second half, and his teammates did a great job of getting it to him.”
Smith-Cotton’s defense in the third held O’Hara to four points. The Celtics turned the ball over five times in the quarter and shot two of nine from the field.
The Tigers got off to a great start in the game, taking an 8-2 lead on the strength of six Bergman points in the paint, including a dunk. But soon the Celtics began double-teaming Bergman, and the Tiger center was held scoreless through the second quarter and most of the third.
“We knew that was going to happen,” Hughes said. “That’s why it was important that Dante get aggressive and take some shots and step in when he got his opportunity.”
After a 9-2 run put O’Hara ahead late in the first, Scroggins answered with a 3-pointer, but O’Hara got 3-pointers from McCarville and Nick Naudet and took a 21-15 lead after one.
In the second quarter, the Tigers shot two of 14 from the field and were outscored 15-7 as the Celtics built a 14-point lead. Smith-Cotton got a pair of baskets on back-to-back 3-pointers from Johnson, but came up empty on its next five possessions, as O’Hara scored the last nine points of the half.
“We had a couple of turnovers,” Hughes said. “That was the pendulum of the first half. We got some stops. We made defensive adjustments and got a lot of stops, but we didn’t convert. We turned it over, which led to easy baskets for them.”
Bergman scored 12 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Johnson and Scroggins had 11 points each. Dakota Brown had six rebounds and five assists.
Smith-Cotton will host Clinton today.