CLAYTON — Deuce Cortner knew exactly where the ball was coming off the rim.
The Northmont High School junior saw senior Tyrin Sturdivant’s free throw miss to the right and darted across the lane, beating several Springfield players to the rebound.
“I just put my hand out and grabbed it,” Cortner said.
Cortner was fouled immediately and knew he had to put the game on ice. He sank two free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining to seal a 54-50 comeback victory over Springfield in a Greater Western Ohio Conference game on Friday night at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome.
“We do free throws at the end of practice every day,” Cortner said. “I just tried to stay calm, cool and collected, take my time and finish.”
Northmont junior Da’lin Wilkins scored a game-high 21 points, including 17 in the second half, and Cortner scored 15 as the Thunderbolts improved to 5-8 and 3-4 in the GWOC. Northmont trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half, but kept chipping away at Springfield’s lead. After an 0-6 start, Northmont has won five of their last seven games.
“The difference in the game was that Wilkins had a monster game around the rim and our guards did a better job of containing dribble penetration in the second half where they didn’t get the same looks they got in the first half,” said Northmont coach Darnell Hoskins. “Give (Springfield) credit. In the first half, they penetrated and pitched really well and they shot it in and that’s what got the lead to balloon. I’ll give my kids credit for the resiliency they showed. They didn’t bat an eye when we got down.”
Springfield freshman Charles Cunningham scored a team-high 15 points for the Wildcats, hitting four 3-pointers. Junior Calea Byrd scored 10 points and senior Tyron Barnes and junior Bryce Washington each scored nine points as the Wildcats fell to 3-8 and 1-4 in the GWOC.
“It’s a tale of two halves,” said Wildcats co-coach Ron Long, who is leading the team with Matt Yinger this season after Shawn McCullough resigned last month. “The first half we played awesome. We played together, played as a team. We pride ourselves on being a family and playing together and I would’ve liked to see us put together four quarters of that. It’s a young team and we’re faithing our way through it.”
Springfield jumped out to a 14-7 lead on a 3-pointer by Cunningham as time expired in the first quarter. He opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer and Washington hit back-to-back treys to extend the lead to 13.
The Wildcats led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, but the Thunderbolts cut the lead to 32-21 on a 3-pointer by Cortner right before halftime. Springfield hit nine 3-pointers in the game, but eight of them came in the first half.
In the second half, Northmont slowly chipped away at the Wildcats lead, finally taking the lead in the fourth quarter at 44-43 on a putback by Wilkins.
Springfield reclaimed the lead at 48-46 on two made free throws by junior Markel Wade with three minutes remaining. A layup by Barnes with two minutes to go gave Springfield a 50-47 lead.
Northmont stormed back, getting back-to-back transition layups by Cortner and sophomore D.J. Williams to give the Thunderbolts a 51-50 lead.
A made free throw by Williams gave Northmont a 52-50 lead. Springfield’s 3-point attempt on its next possession rimmed out and the Wildcats fouled Thunderbolts senior Tyrin Sturdivant with 8.3 seconds remaining. He missed both free throws, but Cortner’s key rebound helped put the Thunderbolts up for good.
“That was the game,” Hoskins said. “He did a heck of a job of not just securing the rebound, but also not turning it over when he needed to get fouled.”
Springfield got a late start after advancing to the Division I football state championship game. The young Wildcats roster consists of just one senior in Barnes. They began the season 0-5, but won three straight before Friday’s game, including victories over Linden McKinley, Thurgood Marshall and Miamisburg.
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