By Michael Burwell
COLUMBUS GROVE — Dakota Bricker had to adjust a little on Bluffton’s biggest possession of Friday’s game.
After he made the adjustment, his shot found nothing but net.
Bricker buried a 3-pointer with eight seconds left to give Bluffton a 43-42 lead over Columbus Grove, and the Pirates forced a turnover on the ensuing possession to hold on for the Northwest Conference boys basketball win at Columbus Grove High School.
“We first had it coming off a screen and that (shot) wasn’t open at first, so I just took a couple dribbles and coach always told me ‘if the hands are down, let it fly,’ so that’s what I was doing,” Bricker said.
“I was feeling pretty good this game, so after all the shots that went up, I was feeling pretty confident so after it went up, I was just hoping it went in. But once it went in, I had to keep it cool because there was still time on the clock, so we had to get a stop.”
Bluffton, which lost two games to Columbus Grove by five total points the last two seasons, improved to 6-7 overall and 2-2 in the NWC.
The Bulldogs dropped to 5-9 and 1-3 in the conference. Eight of Columbus Grove’s nine losses have come by 10 points or less.
Bluffton overcame foul trouble, turnovers and missed scoring chances in the fourth quarter to pick up the win. The Pirates trailed for the entire game except for two and a half minutes.
Columbus Grove opened the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 40-36 lead. Bluffton senior Kaleb Jefferson, who scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the first half, picked up his fourth foul with 3:26 left in the third and fouled out with 2:56 left in the game after checking back in just 35 seconds earlier.
“There certainly were times tonight where Grove was able to get a five or six point lead and it looked like they might be able to extend it, and our guys hung in there,” Bluffton coach Todd Boblitt said. “We got stops when we needed to and eventually got ourselves enough scores to get out of here with a win.”
Columbus Grove’s Logan Schroeder scored on a drive to the basket with 1:53 left to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 42-39. Bricker, who added 11 points, hit 1 of 2 free throws 30 seconds later to pull Bluffton to within two.
Bluffton grabbed the rebound off a missed front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity from Columbus Grove’s Grayson Flores with 29 seconds left.
The Pirates called timeout with 20 seconds left. Boblitt decided to go for the win.
“We came into that timeout and we just decided in the timeout to just go for the win and try to win it on that shot,” he said. “Obviously, having Kaleb sitting beside us, we thought that was going to be our best bet tonight.
“The kids did a nice job executing. Dakota came off and didn’t get a clean look really. They did a nice job defensively to force him to put the ball down and he still knocked it in, which is a tremendous play on his part.”
Blake Reynolds, a talented 6-foot-3 freshman who led Columbus Grove with 11 points and eight rebounds, drove down the baseline in the final seconds, but fell and was called for a travel with 1.3 seconds left. The Pirates inbounded the ball and ran out the clock to get the win.
“He wants the ball in those situations and we want him to have the ball,” Columbus Grove coach Chris Sautter said. “”We’ll live and die with him trying to make a play and if that happens, no blame. It is what it is, so he’s got a lot of games left where he doesn’t make that play tonight, but there will be a lot of games where he does make plays down the stretch to win games.”
Columbus Grove forced five of Bluffton’s 16 turnovers in the fourth quarter, but missed several opportunities to score off the turnovers.
“Close games come down to players making plays, and they made plays down the stretch,” Sautter said of Bluffton. “” We just didn’t make the plays in the fourth quarter that we needed to.”
Bluffton threw multiple defenses at Columbus Grove, including a box-and-one focusing on Reynolds, a triangle-and-two and a 2-3 zone. Bricker, a 5-8 guard, was tasked with trying to slow down Reynolds in the box-and-one.
Reynolds had nine points in the first half, including a deep 3-pointer to cap off his own 6-0 run in the first quarter and a 3-point play off a steal midway through the second.
Bluffton shot 57 percent (17 of 30) from the floor and 71 percent (5 of 7) from the free-throw line. Columbus Grove shot 43 percent (17 of 40) and 38 percent (3 of 8) from the floor and line, respectively.
Mason Soper added nine points for Bluffton, while Jefferson and Cole Fruchey both had a team-high five rebounds. Fruchey banked in a deep 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and had five points.
Logan Schroeder scored nine points for Columbus Grove, which had seven players score.
BLUFFTON (6-7, 2-2 NWC)
Jefferson 6-4–16, Bricker 4-1–11, Soper 4-0–9, Fruchey 2-0–5, Ma. Ault 1-0–2, Ja. Piercefield 0-0–0, Jo. Piercefield 0-0–0. TOTALS: 17-30 5-7 “” 43.
COLUMBUS GROVE (5-9, 1-3 NWC)
Reynolds 4-2–11, Schroeder 4-0–9, Flores 2-0–6, Malsam 2-1–5, Selby 2-0–4, Mason 2-0–4, Birnesser 1-0–3, Nemire 0-0–0, Barrientes 0-0–0. TOTALS: 17-40 3-8 “” 42.
Bluffton 8 14 14 7 — 43
Columbus Grove 13 15 7 7 — 42
3-POINT GOALS: Bluffton 4-8 (Bricker 2, Soper & Fruchey 1); Columbus Grove 5-19 (Flores 2, Reynolds, Schroeder, & Birnesser 1).
REBOUNDS: Bluffton 26 (Fruchey & Jefferson 5); Columbus Grove 17 (Reynolds 8).
TURNOVERS: Bluffton 16, Columbus Grove 7.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Columbus Grove, 43-30.
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