In one of the wildest, craziest high school basketball games imaginable, the Boone Central/Newman Grove Cardinals stormed back from a 16-point halftime deficit to nip Winnebago 63-62 in the final frantic moments of the C1-3 District championship game Monday at Norfolk’s Northeast Community College.
The anticipation and athleticism of Cardinal center Jessie Sullivan, whose 19 points and 12 rebounds played a key role in Boone Central/Newman Grove’s success, sealed the victory and BC/NG’s 2018 state tournament berth in the final seconds. With the Cardinals clinging to the one-point lead, Sullivan was fouled with 3.8 seconds to play. Although he missed the first shot of a one-and-one opportunity, the 6-foot-4 senior had the presence of mind to steal Winnebago’s outlet pass, denying the Indians any chance of a final desperation shot.
Winnebago, 20-5 and ranked 4th in Class C1 by the Omaha World-Herald entering Monday’s contest, had Boone Central/Newman Grove on the ropes and reeling in the first half with octopus-like full court pressure defense and a second-quarter 3-point barrage.
The Cardinals regrouped at intermission, however, and showed the form and steely resolve that swept a pair of rated 20-win opponents in last week’s C1-6 subdistrict tournament.
“The kids fought and kept battling. I thought we did a great job of keeping our composure and moving on to the next play,” said Cardinal Coach Justin Harris. “They hit six of their nine threes in that second quarter, and that is when the lead grew. They have some talented shooters.
“Our free throw shooting was not where it has been the last few games, as we left a lot of points out there. But that is something I have confidence in with our team. All our guys ended up contributing and helped us throughout the game.”
The first half saw a crazy combination of factors that resulted in the lopsided halftime score. The Cardinals trailed 32-13 before a Sullivan tip-in and Dylan Gentrups’ driving basket made it 33-17 at intermission.
“Halftime allowed us to refocus on what we needed to do, and I thought the end of the second quarter gave us some life by breaking the press for a layup, forcing some turnovers, and pushing the ball ahead,” Harris commented. “We just needed to start concentrating on free throws and finishing around the rim, even with contact.”
Boone Central/Newman Grove took its first lead when Cody Nelson assisted a Sullivan bucket with 5:40 to play.
Gentrup pushed the lead to 54-51 before Maurice Scott sank a 3-point shot – Winnebago’s first points of the fourth quarter. A three-point play by Sullivan put BC/NG ahead 61-57 with 1:04 remaining, and LaPointe answered with his own three-point play with :57 to play.
Nelson sank a pair of crucial free throws before Indian center Lance Denny rebounded a 3-point miss and scored with with :22 on the clock. Gentrup missed the front end of a one-and-one, but a Winnebago turnover set up the final sequence that ended with the ball and district championship in the hands of Sullivan.
“It was a fun way to win a game and just showed the great things about high school sports,” Harris said.
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