Titans pull off stunner of Panthers
By Paul Boggs
ROSEMOUNT — Call it indeed divine intervention, but the Notre Dame Titans will remember this one —while Friday night’s outcome will be one for the Clay Panthers to most certainly forget.
That’s because the visiting Titans, which had lost by 31 points against Clay in early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division I competition, turned the tables completely on the Panthers in their return meeting — and did so in absolutely and inexplicably stunning fashion.
After trailing by as much as seven points midway through the third quarter, Notre Dame rallied, withstood an epic fourth-quarter stall-ball tactic, and miraculously flipped Clay’s penultimate possession into two Caleb Nichols free throws for a jaw-dropping 37-35 victory.
Following the most inopportune turnover by the Panthers, Nichols notched his only points on Friday night —two foul shots with only nine seconds showing on the clock.
Gage Moore, the Panthers’ leading scorer but trying to atone for losing the ball on their previous possession, missed a three-pointer near the buzzer, as Jermaine Powell —who made the massive steal and whose missed layup set up Nichols’ free throws — grabbed the final rebound for the Titans.
This one, quite frankly, you had to see to believe —but underdog Notre Dame did what any other club would do in that situation.
That being trying to take advantage of the opposition’s mistakes.
With the wild upset win, the Titans gained a gigantic measure of revenge against the Panthers, which handled them 59-28 in their mid-December matchup.
Notre Dame also bounced back from a disappointing 63-39 home setback against Western on Tuesday night.
The Titans are now 5-8, and 2-6 in the SOC I.
In his postgame media interview, Notre Dame coach Matt Mader described the finish as simply “crazy”.
However, it was hustle plays by his Titans that put them over the top.
“That was a great defensive play by J.P. (Jermaine Powell) to extend out on their point guard. It could have been over-and-back or other things called there, but J.P. stayed with it, the ball got loose, he made the steal and took it to the rack. Then we had two guys following up right behind him with Caleb (Nichols) getting fouled,” said Mader. “Give J.P. credit for making the play, then give Jarren (Edgington) and Caleb credit for running the floor. When Clay beat us by 31 at our place, we got out-hustled and out-played in every facet of the game. To see these guys come back tonight with the tenacity and energy and togetherness…”
Here’s how the final 94 seconds played out.
With Clay clinging to a 35-33 advantage, the Panthers’ Reece Whitley drove the lane but missed, and the Titans corralled the rebound.
On Notre Dame’s possession, Jarren Edgington —who paced the Panthers with 14 points on seven field goals — got a big rebound putback for the 35-35 tie 29 seconds later.
Clay then appeared to hold the ball for the final —and potentially game-winning — shot, as Moore maintained his dribble despite being guarded closely by Powell and out as far as half-court.
But somehow — all of the sudden — Powell picked up a loose ball and raced in for a layup, which he missed but both Edgington and Nichols were right there trailing behind.
Edgington didn’t get the follow-up stickback, but Nichols got his board —and was fouled in the act of shooting with exactly 8.8 seconds remaining.
He calmly sank both foul shots, giving the Titans an unbelievable 37-35 lead.
Clay coach Garrick “Tiny” Anderson opted not to call a timeout to set something up for his Panthers, and instead Moore moved quickly upcourt for the game-winning three-pointer —but he missed and Powell pulled down the rebound as the Titans celebrated wildly when the buzzer sounded.
“The discussion there was whether we wanted to call a timeout trying to set our defense up. In doing that, Coach Anderson has two (timeouts) of his own. We both elected not to call anything. We trusted our defense and did a nice job of getting back and getting set up to force a tough three,” said Mader.
Anderson expressed disappointment in that his Panthers simply didn’t close either the third or fourth quarters out.
“We knew this game would be a dogfight, but it’s a matter of knowing the situation of the game and closing out the game. We are up two (35-33) with a minute and 34 seconds left, and we try to force a shot. At the end of the third quarter, we have the ball with seven or eight seconds left and we don’t get a shot off,” he said. “Those are just closing quarters out and finishing the game. At the end, Notre Dame came out and picked up the pressure, and our kid just mishandled the ball. We tell our kids that every possession matters. This is a prime example of it.”
There were very few possessions in the frantic fourth quarter on Friday night, thanks to a five-minute lull.
Or, rather that should read “stall”.
Whitley opened the fourth by canning a three from the wing, making it 33-29, but Edgington answered immediately on the other end.
Then, for the next nearly five minutes, the Panthers —with the Titans standing back and content in a zone defense — passed the ball around out top or Moore simply stood out front and dribbled.
Clay was trying to get the Titans to come out and defend it man-to-man, but Mader explained that he was trying to primarily and temporarily rest his players — as Notre Dame only played six men with one not playing beyond the first quarter.
Hence, for the final three periods, Edgington, Nichols, Dylan Seison, Dominic Sparks and especially Powell were on the floor without a break.
“That was something we did the other night to mainly get J.P. some rest. He was just out of breath because he was doing it on both ends. Our guys have logged a ton of minutes all season and we don’t go very deep. When you do that, you play a lot of minutes,” said Mader. We were mainly trying to get our guys a breather on the floor to finish the game out.”
With Clay holding the 35-33 lead during that, Anderson said there was no hurry on his Panthers’ part.
“We were committed to it (stall offense), because we knew our best bet was for them (Titans) to come out and try to guard us,” he said. “That’s what they did, but we did score on it.”
Indeed they did, as Whitley was fouled when he drove the lane with two minutes and three seconds left.
He made both free throws, but again the Titans quickly answered with a Powell basket only 13 seconds later for the 35-33 deficit.
That set up the final minute and 34 tics, in which Anderson emphasized that his squad simply didn’t close the deal.
Or, the third frame.
Notre Dame —following a hotly-contested first half of six lead changes and six ties with no lead larger than five by either team — led 23-22, but the Panthers, on two baskets apiece by Moore and Shaden Malone, pushed out to their biggest lead at 30-23 with 4:48 remaining.
But Seison — who canned the Titans’ only three-pointer which forged an 18-18 tie — secured two foul shots, Edgington added a basket, and Sparks scored on a lob to get Notre Dame back within one at 30-29 three minutes later.
With 2.5 seconds showing in the third, the Panthers set up for the last shot, but never got a shot off.
“We’ve struggled with that all year. We’re up six, seven or eight points, then the next thing you know, we’re only up one,” said Anderson. “It’s just not finishing.”
For those into counting, Notre Dame outscored Clay 14-5 over the final 12 minutes and 48 seconds.
“The kids stayed with the gameplan, we executed and didn’t panic,” said Mader. “We have a young team, but these guys know that if there is time on the clock, there’s a chance to win.”
The Titans turned the basketball over only seven times too, which didn’t allow Clay’s trapping press defense to be as effective as it would like.
Instead, Notre Dame got shots.
“That was huge for us,” said Mader. “If we can continue to do that and take care of the basketball and get shots versus turnovers, we’re going to be in more games.”
“In order for us to get into our press, we have to score. We didn’t do a good job of that. Then we get into our traps on our diamond press, and they just split it,” said Anderson. “We did not do a good job of forcing the tempo tonight.”
Clay also missed four free throws on only six attempts, as Moore made two second-quarter threes while Evan Woods did the same in the opening half.
Whitley’s triple in the fourth gave the Panthers five, as Moore led with 10 points while Whitley — with two first-quarter two-pointers —netted nine.
Woods and Malone manged six points apiece, as Malone also scored in the opening period.
Jaden Jessee and Dakota Dodds both tallied a second-stanza basket, as all of the team statistics were as close as the final score would indicate.
It’s just that, for Clay anyway, it’s one that indeed got away.
The Panthers fell to 5-10, and to 4-5 in the SOC I, with the loss.
“It’s frustrating, but we knew this game would be a dogfight,” said Anderson. “We just didn’t close the game out.”
In addition to Edgington’s 14 points, Powell posted 10 on four field goals — with three in the first quarter — and 2-of-5 free throws.
Sparks scored six points, including back-to-back baskets as part of eight unanswered points in the opening period that gave the Titans their largest lead at 12-7.
However, call it divine intervention perhaps —or just plain solid clutch character coming through in the end —for the victorious Titans.
“Just a ton of credit goes to our young kids. We have a lot of character in that locker-room. Those guys fought hard and we’re very proud of them,” said Mader. “A great win like this we hope will be a momentum-builder and confidence-booster for the second half of the season against a tough schedule.”
* * *
Notre Dame 12 11 6 8 — 37
Clay 9 13 8 5 — 35
NOTRE DAME 37 (5-8, 2-6 SOC I)
Jermaine Powell 4 2-5 10, Caleb Nichols 0 2-2 2, Dominic Sparks 3 0-0 6, Chris Schmidt 0 0-0 0, Dylan Seison 1 2-2 5, Jarren Edgington 7 0-0 14; TOTALS 15 6-9 37; Three-point goals: 1 (Dylan Seison 1)
CLAY 35 (5-10, 4-5 SOC I)
Clay Cottle 0 0-0 0, Shaden Malone 3 0-2 6, Evan Woods 2 0-2 6, Reece Whitley 3 2-2 9, Gage Moore 4 0-0 10, Jaden Jessee 1 0-0 2, Dakota Dodds 1 0-0 2; TOTALS 14 2-6 35; Three-point goals: 5 (Evan Woods and Gage Moore 2 apiece, Reece Whitley 1)