By DAVE HANNEMAN
Jim Rucki wanted 32 minutes of good, solid basketball to send his seniors out on a winning note in the final home game of their Findlay High School careers.
Turns out, Rucki and the Trojans got a bit more than they bargained for.
Austin Gutting put Findlay ahead with a 3-point play, then added two game-clinching free throws with 42 seconds on the clock as the Trojans outlasted Toledo Whitmer 68-64 in overtime in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference thriller at the FHS Gymnasium on Friday.
“Coach told us before the game that, no matter what happens, we were going to remember this game the rest of our lives, so we needed to make sure we came out on top,” Gutting said.
“Beating Whitmer in the last home game of our careers, in overtime, that’s something we will never forget.”
Gutting, whose power drive out of the spread offense resulted in a lay-up that put Findlay ahead 61-59 with 45 second left in regulation, scored five of Findlay’s seven points in overtime and had 20 for the game. Adam Twining scored 17 points and Michael Clark 11 as Findlay improved to 16-4 overall and 10-3 in the TRAC.
“This is definitely not the way we planned it. But the big thing is we won. That’s all that matters now,” Clark said.
“We did not want to go out at home with a loss, so I guess playing four extra minutes to do that isn’t so bad.”
Grant McKinniss came off the bench to drill two 3-pointers and score eight points — all in the second quarter. Junior Grant Niswander scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter, including two free throws that tied it at 56-56 with 1:56 left in regulation, and a 3-point play off a steal with 1:41 on the clock.
Despite leading most of the first three quarter and building a 48-41 lead early in the fourth, Findlay couldn’t lock it down against a hot-handed Whitmer team. Samuel Hickey, one of three sophomores in the Panthers’ starting lineup, bombed in three 3-pointers and scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.
Hickey hit three straight 3s during one stretch of the fourth quarter. The first put Whitmer up 53-50, the second, from NBA range, made it 56-52, and the third, with 1:19 left in regulation, tied it 59-59.
After Gutting scored for Findlay, Whitmer’s Jonathon Ashe got inside with 3.2 seconds left, tying the game at 61 and forcing overtime.
Despite a see-saw fourth quarter that saw Findlay go from seven points up (48-41) to four points down (56-52), Rucki didn’t sense uncertainty in his veteran team.
“We got behind after leading the whole game. That could have rattled us,” Rucki said.
“In the huddle at the end of regulation I told them, ‘Well, you guys got yourselves four more minutes (in their final home game), and they kind of smiled a little bit.”
Ashe scored the first basket of overtime. Findlay then spread its offense and worked its weave until Gutting saw a gap and took the ball strong to the basket. Ashe would hit one of two free throws to tie it for the last time, 64-64, with 2:18 to play. Twining scored to put Findlay ahead for good and, after Hickey finally missed a 3-pointer, Twining found Gutting wide open under the basket. His two free throws made it a two-possession game and proved just enough of a cushion when Whitmer, 9 of 19 from 3-point range in the game, missed two chances in the final 36 seconds.
“I was frustrated with myself because I missed some free throws in the first four quarters. In overtime, I thought if I’d have made those we’d have won it earlier,” Gutting said.
“That’s why I kind of put it on myself to make sure we got the win.”
Ashe and Travis Sanders backed Hickey’s 21-point effort with 12-point games of their own.
A month ago, Hickey had six points, Ashe two and Sanders was on the JV team when Findlay routed the Panthers 61-34 at Whitmer.
This wasn’t the same team.
“We’ve been playing better,” Whitmer coach Ryan Brown said of the Panthers (8-11, 6-7 TRAC).
“The first time we played them, we were stagnant on offense. We weren’t moving. It was a struggle. These young kids have been thrown into the fires but these kids have been working hard and we’re getting better every day.”
Whitmer was dominant on the boards, outrebounding Findlay 33-16. Of the 24 total baskets the Panthers made, nine were second-chance opportunities.
“I have to give Whitmer credit. They shot the ball well, they hurt us on the glass, they played tremendous,” Rucki said.
“We’ve guarded well all year long and I think we guarded pretty well tonight. But we couldn’t get stops because they shot well (24 of 49), and when they did miss they have some athletic kids who can get up and go get the ball.
“I thought our guys did a nice job of keeping after it. We made some big plays when we needed to, and we made some free throws down the stretch. I told the guys they were going to remember this game, so let’s go out and do it right. Whitmer almost kept us from doing that.”
In Friday’s opener, Kyle Nunn scored 13 points, Trey Buford 10 and Joey Hammond eight as Findlay’s junior varsity topped Whitmer’s reserves 52-32, improving to 18-2 overall and 12-1 against TRAC schools.
Findlay wraps up regular season play next Friday at Toledo Central Catholic (16-2, 11-1), which took over sole possession of first place in the TRAC standings by posting a 55-37 win Friday over Toledo St. John’s (15-6, 11-2).
TOLEDO WHITMER (8-11, 6-7 TRAC)
Hickey 7-13 2-2–21, Collins 3-10 2-2–8, Schneider 1-3 0-0–2, Ashe 5-12 2-4–12, Sanders 4-7 0-0–12, Boykin 4-6 1-1–9, Stacker 0-0 0-0–0, Triplett 0-0 0-0–0, Elliott 0-1 0-0–0. TOTALS: 24-49 7-9–64.
FINDLAY (16-4, 10-3)
B. Miller 2-2 0-0–5, Niswander 2-3 3-3–7, Clark 4-7 0-0–11, Twining 7-14 3-4–17, Gutting 6-11 8-12–20, McKinniss 3-3 0-0–8, Gobrecht 0-0 0-0–0, Kairys 0-0 0-0–0. TOTALS: 24-39 14-20–68.
Toledo Whitmer 7 14 19 21 3 — 64
Findlay 10 19 14 18 7 — 68
3-Point GOALS: Toledo Whitmer 9-19 (Hickey 5-11, Boykin 0-2, Ashe 0-2, Sanders 4-6); Findlay 6-12 (B. Miller 1-1, Niswander 0-1, Clark 3-6, Twining 0-3, McKinniss 2-2).
rebounds: Toledo Whitmer 33 (Ashe 7, Collins 6, Schneider 6); Findlay 16 (Twining 5).
turnovers: Toledo Whitmer 13, Findlay 8.
junior varsity: Findlay, 52-32.
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