Lincoln Northeast may have been in line for a wild card.
But why wait?
The Class A No. 10 Rockets punched their ticket for next week’s state basketball tournament with a 68-63 overtime win over Millard West on Monday night in the District A-6 final.
“This group of guys, there’s a lot of things I love about them, but the thing I love the most about them is the kind of competitors that they are,” Northeast coach David Mercer said. “They don’t give in. They don’t quit. They fight, they compete. Losing is the worst thing in the world to these guys, and that’s why they’re so successful.”
A fast start to the extra session had the Rockets playing in front for the game’s final three minutes. Junior guard Tyson Shadegg, who didn’t score in the third and fourth quarters, put Northeast ahead with a 3-pointer a minute into overtime, then followed with a scoop shot on the break to give his team a cushion it would never relinquish.
Shadegg was just 3 of 10 from the floor through regulation before his buckets.
“At least I got going at the end of the game,” he said. “That’s where it matters.”
Mercer was not surprised to see his point guard come up big when it mattered most.
“That’s Tyson,” the coach said. “When it’s time to switch it on, he does it. He just kind of took over there.”
Millard West trimmed its deficit to 61-59 on a three-point play by Colby Gomes, but saw that momentum wiped away on the next trip down the floor.
Northeast center Trace Tupper converted a three-point play on a sequence that first looked to be a charge and then appeared to be well before the shot. The 6-foot-9 Tupper was granted the continuation and converted the free throw to swing things back toward Northeast.
Millard West coach Bill Morrison, whose team now sweats out Tuesday’s remaining district finals with an eye on the wild card, called it a “big call.”
“The lead is big all the time, but in overtime it’s even bigger,” he said. “It’s easier to play with the lead. You’re in control and you can kind of control what you want to do.”
Still, Morrison’s team had a couple of opportunities late, but a shot in the lane with 30 seconds left was off, and a clean look at what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer missed left.
Talon Little sank a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to seal a third straight trip to the state tournament for the Rockets.
Northeast might not have even gotten to overtime without Malcolm Helmstadter-Whitlow. The freshman scored seven of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“He was on the attack the second half, too,” Mercer said. “We wanted to get Trace the ball, but it was kind of slowing everything else down for us. We wanted to change and get on the attack a little bit more, and Malcolm was the catalyst for that.”
Tupper finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
Logan Anderjaska led Millard West with 18 points and six rebounds. Teammate Shae Wyatt added 16 for the Wildcats.
Lincoln Northeast (16-9)......19 16 5 16 12—68
At Millard West (15-9)..........15 16 15 10 7—63
LNE: Tyson Shadegg 13, Talon Little 4, Malcolm Helmstadter-Whitlow 23, Tivon Phillips 8, Trace Tupper 20.
MW: Austin Hall 4, Simon Hay 8, Logan Anderjaska 18, Shae Wyatt 16, Colby Gomes 11, Brock Burling 6.
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