The Superior Spartans boys basketball team squeaked past the Northwestern Tigers, 80-79, in an overtime game that needed every second in Superior on Monday.
The pandemic-limited crowd was kept in suspense all night in a game that featured 19 lead changes and 40 minutes of gritty, man-to-man defense.
“We expected the pressure,” said Superior coach Jake Smith. “We struggled at times with some crucial turnovers, but their guys are so fast, up and down, that they make it tough for you.”
The Tigers dialed up that pressure all night with a full-court press and forced 18 Superior turnovers, including 11 in the first half.
“We take pride in playing physical basketball and getting up and down the floor,” said Northwestern coach Nolan Graff. “But we’re kicking ourselves over this one.”
Northwestern (7-3) led by one point after a first half where neither team led by more than three points. They started the second half with the ball and blitzed Superior with a 5-0 run in the first minute. Junior C. J. Thompson led the charge, scoring the Tigers’ first 10 points after the break and leading all scorers with 29 points.
“I told C.J. to be the best player on the floor tonight,” said coach Graff. “I think he was, and I think everybody witnessed that. He’s a kid that I expect nothing less out of. He’s a captain of this team, and he’s one of the hardest-working kids I know. I’m proud of him.”
The Spartans (1-1) answered with a 6-0 run of their own, setting up a grueling remainder of the second half when neither team led by more than two points. Pressure defense by both teams resulted in 44 fouls during the game.
After the Tigers committed a foul deep in Superior’s backcourt with 2.1 seconds left in regulation, the Spartans responded by missing both double-bonus free throws to send the game to overtime.
The extra frame featured a series of matching 3-pointers and baskets by both teams until Spartan senior Kaden Kimmes, who led the team with 24 points, was fouled while making a lay-up with 4.6 seconds remaining to put Superior up 80-79. The Tigers rebounded the missed free throw and called timeout with three seconds left.
After the timeout, junior guard John Grohn tore down the length of the court to make a lay-up from the right side, only to have it waved off by the officials as the buzzer sounded.
“Yeah, I think we kinda let ’em off the hook tonight,” said Northwestern’s Graff.
Monday’s buzzer-beater was the tightest game between Superior and Northwestern for a long time — which owes largely their not having played each other for at least 30 years, according to Superior school officials.
The Spartans’ Smith hopes to see more games in the future. “The rivalry and the competitiveness in a normal year when we can pack the gym—I think this would be an awesome game for both teams,” he said. “Coach Graff is a competitive guy, and I think he would enjoy keeping this game going, as well.”
Northwestern 38-31-10 – 79
Superior 37-32-11 – 80
Northwestern – John Grohn 6, Harrison Nelson 5, Bennett Nelson 9, Mason Dupree 2, Jase Nelson 8, Cole Lahti 15, Evan Moreau 5, C.J. Thompson 29. Totals 27 19-30 79.
3-point goals – Grohn, Lahti, Moreau, Thompson 3.
Superior – Johnny Rhodes 5, Jake Kidd 12, Shane Leask 2, Ben Hunter 2, Robert Olson 9, Evan Bennett 6, Lars Olson 20, Kaden Kimmes 24. Totals 30 16-26 80.
3-point goals – Kidd, R. Olson, Bennett, Kimmes.