By DAVE HANNEMAN
LIMA — In the end, the littlest guy on the floor made, perhaps, the biggest play of the game.
Lima Senior’s Khalil Luster, a 5-foot-5 sophomore guard, made one of two free throws with 5.4 seconds on the clock.
Isaiah Moore’s attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer on the other end was just off the mark at the buzzer as the Spartans outlasted Findlay High’s boys basketball team 48-45 on Friday in another classic battle between the long-time I-75 rivals.
“Our guys fought and scratched and kept clawing but we dug a little too deep of a hole early on,” FHS coach Jim Rucki said after the Trojans, down by 12 points at the half and still trailing by eight with six minutes left in the game, took a deep, talented and state-ranked Lima Senior team to the wire.
“We still have to clean up some of our mistakes, but I’m proud of the way we fought back and kept battling.”
Lima Senior, ranked No. 8 among Ohio’s Division I schools, improved to 9-1 overall and remained unbeaten (6-0) in Three Rivers Athletic Conference play. Findlay had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 7-3, 4-3 in the TRAC.
A four-point play by Max Roth and a driving lay-in by Isaiah Moore trimmed Lima Senior’s deficit to 29-23 to open the second half, but the Spartans maintained an 8-to-10-point lead most of the period. It didn’t change in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, when Findlay sat back in a zone defense and Lima Senior was content to simply hold the ball out front.
“As a coach you get a vibe for how games are going to go, how they are being played,” said Lima Senior coach Quincey Simpson.
“I think we were up eight, nine points. I felt we could kill the clock for a few minutes because I knew he (Rucki) wouldn’t stay in it that long.”
Simpson was right, but he had reason for concern.
Two steals by Moore and four free throws by A.J. Adams got Findlay within 41-35 with 5:08 to play. The Trojans still trailed by seven (46-39), though, when Bowling Green State Universitty-bound senior guard Josiah Fulcher nailed two foul shots with 2:55 on the clock.
Adams, who scored a game-high 20 points, nailed a fall-away jumper in the lane and Moore scored off another steal, cutting the deficit to 46-43 and making it a one-possession game. A Lima Senior turnover and Adams’ pull-up bank shot made it 46-45 with 11 seconds left.
With 8.6 seconds on the clock, Fulcher, who Roth had to foul to prevent a wide-open layup, hit one of two free throws on the intentional foul. Luster added his free throw two seconds later.
“That’s Findlay for you,” Simpson said. “They’re not going to go away, they’re going to continue to run their sets, they’re going to continue their style of play.
“They got some defensive stops on us, they turned us over a couple of times, the whole momentum shifted and they got confident.
“They slowed us down. We want the games in the 80s, preferably in the 90s, so to slow us down takes away our possessions, it takes away our open looks and our transition opportunities.
“Findlay came in here with a game plan and I thought they executed it really well in the second half.”
Fulcher led Lima Senior with 16 points. Jamir Simpson had 12 and Dante Wheeler had 10, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first quarter and put Lima Senior ahead 17-10.
Roth added nine points and Moore had eight, all in the second half. Findlay committed just three turnovers in the second half after turning the ball over nine times in the first two quarters against a quick and athletic Lima Senior team.
“We cannot in a million years simulate in practice that kind of denial and the pressure. You have to see it,” Rucki said.
“Playing a team like this exposes those things. Seeing what they did, understanding what we need to do to get better, addressing those things in practice … We have to make sure this makes us get better.”
FINDLAY (7-3, 4-3 TRAC)
Strzempka 2-3 1-1 5, Moore 4-7 0-2 8, M. Roth 3-5 2-3 9, Adams 7-12 6-6 20, Makrancy 1-5 0-0 3, Weihrauch 0-3 0-0 0, Montgomery 0-0 0-0 0, Gertz 0-0 0-0 0, J. Roth 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 17-36 9-12 — 45.
LIMA SENIOR (9-1, 6-0 TRAC)
Luster 1-3 1-2 3, Fulcher 6-12 3-6 16, Wheeler 4-7 0-0 10, Mack 1-5 0-0 2, Simpson 5-7 2-4 12, Rawlins 0-0 0-0 0, Miles 1-1 3-4 5. TOTALS: 18-35 9-16 — 48.
Findlay 10 7 14 14 — 45
Lima Senior 17 12 10 9 — 48
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 2-8 (Moore 0-2, M. Roth 1-2, Makrancy 1-4); Lima Senior 3-13 (Fulcher 1-4, Wheeler 2-5, Mack 0-3, Simpson 0-1).
rebounds: Findlay 18 (Adams 5); Lima Senior 25 (Fulcher 5).
turnovers: Findlay 12, Lima Senior 14.
junior varsity: Lima Senior, 64-36.
FRESHMAN: Lima Senior, 55-32.