Urbana fought and fought Tuesday night to get even with Bellefontaine. And just when it looked as if hope was gone, Dillon Knueven banked in a 3-pointer with seven seconds left.
Down two, the Hillclimbers fouled Bellefontaine’s Tristin Tillman before the ball was inbounded. Tillman made the first but missed the second. But Urbana never got a chance to shoot for the tie because Chieftains point guard AJ Gorham stole the outlet pass and was fouled.
Two free throws later fourth-seeded Bellefontaine had knocked off top-seeded Urbana 45-40 in a Division II sectional semifinal at Springfield High School.
“I never felt like we were out of it,” Urbana coach Jeremy Dixon said. “I always thought we’re going to have a run, we’re going to have a run. Unfortunately it just came a little bit too late.”
Bellefontaine meets Central Buckeye Conference rival Tippecanoe, the No. 2 seed, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Springfield High in the sectional final.
Urbana (18-6) never led and was never tied for the lead as Bellefontaine (15-8) took a 10-4 lead after one quarter. The Hillclimbers played catch-up, and 42-40 was as close as they got on Knueven’s late 3-pointer.
“It seemed like every time we had a chance to cut the lead, we’d miss an easy basket, a loose ball would tip their way or they’d get a breakout,” Dixon said.
The Chieftains, who had their own struggles scoring at times against the stingiest defense in the CBC, led by nine early in the fourth and by eight three more times, the last at 38-30 with 2:51 left before Urbana’s final push.
“They’re a champion,” Bellefontaine coach Henry Stolly said. “They’re going to keep battling to the very end like a champion does.”
Dixon, however, pointed to his team’s four-point first quarter. The Chieftains opened with a 2-3 zone, which did not surprise Urbana. But if high schools played with a shot clock, there would have been a lot of bad, late-in-the-clock shots in the first quarter. The Hillclimbers were reduced to perimeter passers.
“You can’t have a first quarter like we did and expect to beat a good team,” Dixon said. “We were very unaggressive with the zone early on. And when we did get opportunities we just didn’t finish them.”
The Chieftains, who lost to Urbana 45-41 a month ago, changed defenses often during the final three quarters, alternating between zone and man and employing different half-court traps and full-court zone pressure.
“We tried to keep them out of an offensive flow by changing defenses and putting a little pressure on their guards and make them feel a little uncomfortable,” Stolly said.
Urbana won its third straight CBC Mad River Division title this year. Dixon said seniors Knueven (14 points), Alex Niswonger and Justin Levan gave the team strong leadership and consistent play.
“These guys are great kids,” Dixon said. “I don’t think anybody in their right mind expected these kids to win 18 games this year. They overachieved all year.”