By DAVE HANNEMAN
Toledo Central Catholic’s Keith Smith missed a game-winning shot on Tuesday.
But when it came to game-winning free throws, the senior guard was dead on.
In a rebound scrum after his missed bank shot, Smith got his hands on the ball, was fouled and converted two free throws with 2.8 seconds on the clock as the Irish escaped Findlay High Gymnasium with a 50-49 Three Rivers Athletic Conference win over the Trojans.
“Keith’s expectations for himself are very high. He’ll be the first one to admit he didn’t play well tonight,” TCC coach Nick Lowe said. “But he made two free throws with two seconds left. I told the team after the game, ‘You might not play well sometimes, but you’re still going to be called to step up.'”
Jalen Daoust, a 6-foot-4 senior post, scored six points in the first quarter, seven in the fourth and led Central Catholic with 15. Jamarr Parker, a 6-5 senior wing, added 12 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Irish, who improved to 6-5 overall and 4-2 in the TRAC.
Chase Miller scored 16 points, Ryan Nunn 11 and Jake Elbin nine for Findlay, 8-5 overall and 3-4 in the league.
Findlay High coach Jim Rucki would not comment on the final play, where it appeared Findlay’s Chaze Proehl had possession of the rebound before a scramble for the ball began.
What concerned Rucki was a slow start on the Trojans’ home floor, costly turnovers that fueled a Central Catholic rally in the third quarter, and an inability to hold onto a lead late in the third quarter and again late in the fourth.
“I can’t explain that start. We did some things that were unexplainable,” Rucki said after Findlay fell behind 10-2 and 12-3 in the first five minutes of the game.
“We woke up and played a little harder and with more focus after that. But we can’t put enough good possessions together without what seems like killer turnovers.
“We’d get a lead, and when we needed a good possession we’d do something to shoot ourselves in the foot. And we just keep doing it. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it’s something we have to get better at.”
Daoust was unstoppable inside and Central Catholic made its first six shots — all within 10 feet of the basket — in getting off to a torrid start. Kendall Denko, a 6-7 senior, put the Irish up 15-10 when he converted a fourth-chance offensive rebound to open the second quarter.
Like Findlay, Central Catholic was also less than perfect. After making its first six field goals, TCC was 4 of 14 from the field the rest of the half. The Irish were also 1 of 5 from the line and committed 12 turnovers.
“We were very upset at halftime,” Lowe said of Central Catholic’s slight 22-21 lead. “Findlay is a very good defensive team, but the thing is we quit valuing the basketball. A lot of those turnovers were self-induced.”
Findlay turned the ball over on its first three possessions of the second half but hung tough, eventually taking its first lead of the game (29-28) when Miller drained a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
Findlay still led 34-33 on Taylor Miles’ 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, 36-35 when Elbin converted two free throws and 39-37 on Miller’s “3” from the left corner.
Little mistakes cost Findlay in big ways, though
Parker scored on a putback of an offensive rebound, then nailed a 3-pointer following a steal. With Findlay ice cold from the field, especially 3-point range, Central Catholic heated up. James Harris III converted two foul shots with 5:41 to play, Daoust scored on another power move inside and then hit one of two free throws with 4:08 left, capping a 10-0 TCC run that put the Irish up 47-39.
Just when it looked like the Trojans were done, they weren’t.
Miller hit his second 3-pointer of the period and fourth of the game to trim the deficit to 47-42 with 2:10 on the clock.
After TCC’s Zach Hoover made one of two fouls shots, Elbin’s 3-pointer cut it to 48-45 with 1:49 to play.
Elbin scored again when Findlay’s double-team trap forced a turnover. Kyle Nunn then came up with a steal and Ryan Nunn converted on the other end, making both free throws to give Findlay a 49-48 edge with 28 seconds left.
TCC worked some clock before Smith, who had just two free throws to his credit to that point, drove the lane. His bank shot was off, but after scrambling for the rebound he made both free throws.
Findlay got the ball up court in those final 2.8 seconds, but Miller’s attempt from the foul line circle was a bit short and a little left at the buzzer.
“We knew they weren’t going away, not the way Miller and Elbin can shoot the ball and Nunn can score when he gets hot,” Lowe said. “We knew they had a run in them. We made some plays when we needed to, and got a little bit of luck involved, too.”
“We forced some turnovers and hit some big shots to get that opportunity at the end,” Rucki said.
“We played hard. We just fell a little bit short.”
In Tuesday’s opener, KahRon White, Adam Gutting and Ryan Roth hit clutch 3-pointers late in the game and Findlay’s reserves outscored TCC 9-2 in the final minute to earn a 43-40 victory.
White and Gutting had 11 points each and Miles scored 10 for Findlay (9-4, 4-3 TRAC).
TOLEDO CENTRAL CATHOLIC (6-5, 4-2 TRAC)
Parker 5-8 0-0 12, Smith 0-4 4-4 4, Hoover 2-4 2-4 6, Daoust 7-11 1-2 15, Harris 2-2 2-2 6, Grombacher 0-1 0-0 0, Buford 0-2 1-2 1, Christie 1-1 0-0 3, Denko 1-3 1-2 3. TOTALS: 18-35 11-20–50.
FINDLAY (8-5, 3-4 TRAC)
T. Miller 0-1 0-0 0, C. Miller 5-14 2-2 16, K. Nunn 3-11 1-2 7, Proehl 1-4 1-2 3, Elbin 3-9 2-2 9, R. Nunn 4-6 2-2 11, Miles 1-2 0-0 3, Hapner 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 17-48 8-10–49.
Toledo Central Catholic 13 9 11 17 — 50
Findlay 10 11 10 18 — 49
3-POINT GOALS: Toledo Central Catholic 3-7 (Parker 2-2, Smith 0-1, Hoover 0-1, Grombacher 0-1, Buford 0-1, Christie 1-1); Findlay 7-20 (C. MIller 4-10, K. Nunn 0-2, R. Nunn 1-2, Miles 1-1, Elbin 1-5).
REBOUNDS: Toledo Central Catholic 33 (Parker 6, Daoust 5); Findlay 23 (K. Nunn 5, Proehl 4, Elbin 4).
TURNOVERS: Toledo Central Catholic 23, Findlay 15.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Findlay, 43-40.
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