By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — Newton boys basketball coach Gavin Spitler shouldn’t have had to try hard to sell his Indians on the possibility of upsetting a No. 1 seed.
After all, he’s living proof that it can be done.
“When we got the draw, I told them that I played for Newton back in the early 2000s, and we played a No. 1 Southeastern team,” he said. “I told them my story about how we beat them in the first round. And they bought into the idea that we could do it.”
Tuesday, the Indians made believers out of everybody.
Newton’s Charlie Walker drew an intentional foul with 37.2 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s matchup against No. 1 Legacy Christian, hitting both free throws to put the 10th-seeded Indians up by one, and then Andrew Whittaker hit one with 5.7 seconds left to make it a two-point game and missed the second one — only to have teammate Mitchell Montgomery to grab the offensive rebound to wrap up a massive upset, 49-46 in the second round of the Division IV sectional tournament at the Trojan Activities Center.
With Legacy Christian (20-4) clinging to a 44-43 lead in the game’s final minute, the Knights missed the front end of a one-and-one, only for Erik Uszynski to snare the offensive rebound. But Newton’s Walker was able to get his hands on it in an attempt to force a tie-up, and Uszynski began swinging his elbows wildly to clear out, cracking Walker in the face to draw a whistle for a game-changing intentional foul and sending Walker to the line for a pair of free throws.
Following the game, Walker said something he likely never thought he would after being elbowed in the face.
“I was just really happy,” he said, the beginnings of a nasty shiner starting to show. “I took one for the team there. But after that, I was really nervous. I’ve never had to make free throws in that situation before. It was crazy.”
Once the free throws went down, though, reality began to set in that winning truly was possible.
“I was so pumped,” Walker said. “I’ve never felt that excited in my entire life.”
“When you keep it close like that, things happen,” Spitler said. “That was just a hustle play where Charlie is there hustling and going for the basketball. I’m 100 percent positive that the guy from Legacy didn’t mean that, but in the heat of the moment, it happens.”
On the ensuing possession, Chet Jamison sank two more free throws to make it a three-point game with 34.1 seconds left, and Legacy called timeout with 12.8 seconds on the clock to set up its final plans. Josh Frueh scored on a drive to cut the lead to one, then the Knights fouled Whittaker with 5.7 seconds remaining to try to get the ball back.
Whittaker hit the first and missed the second, but Montgomery got the offensive rebound, all but sealing the win. He hit one free throw to make it a three-point game, and after Legacy’s half-court desperation heave was off the mark, the Indian bench and student section charged the court in celebration.
“It was crazy,” Montgomery said. “I was just trying to get that board. I sealed him, it came right to me, he fouled me and I got on the line. I’m just at a complete loss for words. It’s just amazing. A miracle.”
Rebounding was definitely the key in the game, with the Indians winning the battle of the boards 42-29 total and 24-14 in the second half.
“Rebounding is something we’ve preached since the beginning of this year,” Spitler said. “Last year, we just didn’t have any size. This year, we have size. And tonight, we rebounded better on the offensive end and didn’t give them a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
Free throws made a big difference, too. The Knights built their lead throughout the night from the free throw line, going 12 for 15 in the first half to take a 31-26 lead and going 15 for 20 in the first three quarters, carrying a 42-38 advantage into the final quarter. Newton, on the other hand, was 1 for 2 over the first three quarters, but went 7 for 11 in the fourth and 6 for 8 in the final minute, while Legacy was 0 for 5 in the fourth.
“That was huge,” Spitler said. “Free throws have been an issue, and getting rebounds on free throws has been an issue — but there, the one they got the rebound on, that foul happened.”
The win was even more impressive given everything that went against Newton (8-15) throughout. Point guard Ryan Mollette picked up his fourth foul with 3:05 left in the first half, leaving the Indians without their primary ballhandler while facing a high-pressure Knights defense that forced 14 turnovers in the game. And with 3:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, Kleyson Wehrley — who was leading the Indians in scoring at the time — came down wrong after missing a potential go-ahead 3-pointer, leaving the game with an injury and not returning.
“Ryan getting his fourth, that was just a gamble,” Spitler said. “The game was tight and we didn’t want to take him out, we haven’t played a lot with him out this year. We gambled and it didn’t pay off — but the guys came together, came out and executed. And Kleyson, he shot a 3, then the guy closing him out got under him a bit, he stepped down on him and twisted his ankle. We’ll see how it goes — hopefully he’s able to play Friday.”
Wehrley finished with 11 points and five rebounds and Jamison had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Indians on the night. Dawson Hildebrand and Alex Koon each had six points and nine rebounds, Walker added six points — including a buzzer-beating 3 at halftime to keep the Indians within five — Montgomery finished with five points and four rebounds, Mollette had three points and Whittaker had one point.
Mike Sharavjamts led the Knights with 12 points, Uszynski had nine points and nine rebounds, Frueh had eight points and five rebounds, Roman Newsome had seven points, Keano Hammerstrom had seven points and five rebounds and Jon Riddle chipped in three points.
“To beat a team that’s won 20 games like that, it takes a whole week of practice,” Spitler said. “The JV guys busted their tails all week and made our guys work, and the guys bought in to what we were trying to do. We didn’t play a perfect game — but we didn’t have to. We just had to play the game we wanted to. It took a whole team effort, and everybody stepped up.”
Now the Indians find themselves in a sectional championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at the Trojan Activities Center facing a very familiar opponent — No. 5 Franklin Monroe, which knocked off No. 4 Cedarville 54-38 in Tuesday’s early game. Back on Jan. 8, the Indians defeated the conference rival Jets 58-56 in their regular-season matchup.
“I think all year long there isn’t a team we’ve played that we’re not capable of playing with,” Spitler said. “We have the capability of playing with anybody, and we proved that tonight.”
After Tuesday, the Indians should have an easier time believing.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.