With his team trailing by five and time running out, South Williamsport coach Matt Fisher could see his players needed a timeout.
He only had one message to the group, as they sucked down water and tried to catch their breath on the bench - relax.
South Williamsport, being the bigger and stronger, but slower team, listened and slowed down the final two minutes of the game. Back into the kind of bullish game it wanted, South Williamsport outscored the opposition 12-4 over the final minutes. And thanks to an Alek Keller putback, South Williamsport survived for a 58-55 win over St. John Neumann on Wednesday.
Tommy Rook of South Williamsport shoots as Tyree Vidal of Neumann trailes Wednesday night at South Williamsport. Also defending are Connor Flynn (2) and Mike Wenner (13) for Neumann. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
The win, along with a 45-40 Sullivan County victory over Bloomsburg, knots both South Williamsport and Sullivan County and Bloomsburg atop the Heartland Athletic Conference III standings with 11-3 league records. It also likely gave South Williamsport a No. 8 seed in the District 4 Class AA playoffs.
"We started to rush some shots and play to their tempo,"?said?Fisher. "They are a better up and down team than us and we are better when we set up and get the ball inside. Before we called the timeout we were getting away from that."
Keller, who finished with a career-high 21 points while pulling down 11 boards, excelled over the final quarter. The 6-foot-3 senior canned his final three shots, with his last icing the contest.
"Coach had been telling me not to think about it and to put the ball up," Keller said. "I turned, looked and shot it."
Keller scored in each of the game's four quarters, with his six in the last minutes of the game being decisive. Besides the final shot Keller played inspired ball throughout the second half. He added six points in the third and also finished with five rebounds and a steal.
"Alek was huge tonight," Fisher said. "We felt like tonight we could beat them in the paint and guys like Keller did a great job. He stepped up huge tonight an asserted himself."
Despite Keller's strong inside presence and a loud gymnasium filled to capacity by fans of both teams, St. John Neumann proved up to the challenge.
Down 17-6 after a 3-for-13 shooting effort in the first quarter, Neumann responded in the second quarter. The Knights converted 7 of 12 shots from the floor in the second, including four 3-pointers. Jorden Cole, who finished with 15 points, led the charge by nailing two treys. The shots, along with Conor Flynn's two long balls, helped break up South Williamsport's 1-3-1 zone.
"It opens it up inside," St. John Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "Any time a team is in a zone it's crucial someone opens it up by hitting outside shots. It means they have to cover him and if they don't we'll keep on hitting them."
And that's exactly what St. John Neumann did as Cole's final basket of the second quarter with 1:43 remaining pulled it to within 26-21.
"We didn't do a good job of closing out on shooters," Fisher said. "We have to be aware of where guys are at and it's a tribute to them they hit so many shots."
The distance shooting continued for Neumann as it opened the third with Cole's third 3-pointer. He added another late one to help Neumann close out the quarter with some momentum.
Besides a league title hanging in the balance, Wednesday's contest also signaled the return of Mike Wenner, who played for the Mountaineers last season, but opted to go with the Knights this year. And in his return, Wenner clearly felt the added pressure of his salty reunion early on. He missed all four of his first quarter attempts and finished without a point. It wasn't about how Wenner started, though, but how he finished.
After being limited to just six first-half points, Wenner exploded over the game's final 16 minutes posting 15 of his team-high 21 points. Wenner was especially tough in the fourth and knotted the score at 43-all when he drove through the lane, made a layup and drew a foul. Wenner easily converted the 3-point play to setup the dramatic finish.
The two teams battle through six fourth quarter lead changes and three ties, but it was Keller's shots and rebounds at the conclusion that inched South Williamsport over Neumann for a share of the league title.
"It was great to see guys respond and execute," Fisher said. "The biggest thing was the last two minute stretch when we were down. We played through adversity and executed."
Conor Flynn 2 2-2 8; Jorden Cole 6 0-1 15; Tyree Vidal 3 0-0 6; Mike Wenner 7 7-9 21; Alize Johnson 1 0-0 2; Ryan Reid 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 9-12 55.
South Williamsport (58)
Tyler Weaver 0 0-0 0; Michael Hall 2 2-2 6; Alex Carpenter 0 0-0 0; Riley Hengler 4 1-2 9; Brandon Johnson 3 1-2 7; Tommy Rook 5 5-6 15; Alek Keller 10 1-5 21. Totals 24 10-17 58.
SJN 6 20 14 15-55
SW 17 13 13 15-58
3-point goals: SJN 6 (Flynn 2, Cole 4). SW 0.
JV score: 91-35, South Williamsport. High scorers: SJN, Andrew Keeler, 21. SW, Billy Rummings, 22.
Records: SJN (16-5, 9-5). SW (16-6, 11-3) Next: Bucktail at SJN, Friday, 7:30.