By Matt Nestor
It was senior night for Auburn as they hosted Jefferson with a chance to move into a tie for second place with one game left to play.
Nobody told the Knights’ sophomore guard Fred Van Vleet that the night was supposed to belong to the upperclassmen.
Van Vleet shot 10-13 from the field, and added 11-14 from the free-throw line, to score 33 points and help Auburn top the J-Hawks 80-75 in overtime to move into a tie for first with the J-Hawks.
“Fred carried us,” Auburn Coach Brian Ott said of the guard’s performance. “It was senior night, but the sophomore carried us. His playmaking on the floor makes us go. Tonight, the playmaking included scoring. He finishes in a way that you can’t possibly imagine to teach a kid to finish. His court vision, his knack for making those shots, you just can’t teach.”
The Knights didn’t win without the help of the seniors, however. Little-used players like Patrick Berryhill, Vance Adams and Brandon Whitehorn all played early and scored, while J.D. Danforth put in 16 points.
The biggest play from a senior came in overtime, however, when Chris Harvey made a steal with the Knights up 2 and took the ball for 2 points to make it a two-possession game late.
“It makes it the ideal senior night,” Ott said of the contributions. “You get a kid like Chris Harvey, who has been a defensive specialist for us, and he makes it a two-possession game on a layup, and he does it on a defensive play.”
The Knights led for most of the game, leading by as much as 11 throughout, but the J-Hawks didn’t go quietly, despite missing their senior leader, Mario Manns. Mershon Wilkes picked up the slack, scoring 22 points, while Jermarkus Lovett hit three treys on his way to 19 points.
“We expect that out of those guys,” Jefferson Coach Todd Brannan said of his guards. “They are seniors, and they expect that out of themselves. We thought we could make up for (Manns’) rebounding and his scoring. But it’s his energy and his athletic plays that maybe we were missing. We just needed one more play.”
Jefferson did have a chance to win the game at the end of the fourth quarter, but missed a shot. Van Vleet almost made sure there was no overtime, heaving a last-second player just before the half-court line that hit off the front of the rim.
“Did I think he had it? Oh, yeah,” Ott said of Van Vleet’s shot at the buzzer. “He has a lot of confidence that he can hit that thing. It’s one of those things you don’t teach, but in reality, he practices it. Not because we encourage it. He’s a winner. He expects that he’s going to make a winning play.”
Jefferson plays at Hononegah to end the regular season, with the winner earning at least a share of second place in the conference. The Knights head to Guilford, and with a win, they will finish in a tie for second.
“We have optimized our chances,” Ott said. “We have not made the immature mistake of stumbling against an opponent we should beat.”
Around the NIC-10
→ It was a bittersweet weekend for the Boylan Titans. After defeating the Guilford Vikings 73-59, the Titans clinched a share of the conference crown. They won the title the following night with Jefferson’s loss, but were also handed their first conference loss of the season, falling 53-50 to the Freeport Pretzels.
The Pretzels got 15 points out of Jalen Carroll, while Austin Davis chipped in 11 against Boylan. They beat East the previous night, which gets the Pretzels into fifth place. Nick Bauch scored 13 points to lead the Titans. In the win over Guilford, Armani Flannigan had one of his best games of the season, scoring 26 points in the win.
→ Bo Andrews got hot for the Harlem Huskies over the weekend. He scored 24 points for the Huskies in an 87-77 loss in a shootout with Auburn. But Andrews came up with another 24 points against East, as the Huskies outscored the E-Rabs by 17 in the final quarter to win 70-59. The win keeps the Huskies tied for fifth with Freeport.
→ Hononegah swept the Belvidere schools, holding both under 40 points, topping Belvidere North 59-35, while beating the Bucs 55-39. Mario Donaldson continued his recent stellar play, scoring 17 points in both games.
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From the Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2010 issue