DECATUR — Christian Williams played his worst offensive game of the season Friday in one of St. Teresa’s most important games of the year.
But when it came time to take the game’s biggest shot, Bulldogs coach Tom Noonan ran a play for Williams and he delivered. His pull-up in the lane with 23 seconds left in overtime gave St. Teresa a one-point lead, and the Bulldogs held on — barely — for a 51-50 win that gave them sole possession of first place in the Okaw Valley Conference.
Williams was 1-of-10 from the field before that shot and spent much of the second half on the bench with four fouls while watching Monticello slowly reel in St. Teresa after the Bulldogs had taken a big early lead.
But with St. Teresa (20-3, 8-1 Okaw Valley) trailing by one with less than 30 seconds left, Williams came off a screen and buried a shot in the lane that gave St. T its first overtime lead with 23 seconds left.
“That’s a play we’ve been working on during practice — we just put it in and we did a good job executing it,” Williams said. “I wanted to score more, but I did good defensively and that’s all that matters.”
Noonan said even if Williams’ confidence was shaken, he trusted him to come through.
“He’s shown in practice and in other games he deserves the basketball in his hands in those situations, and that he can go make a play,” Noonan said. “He didn’t have a lot of rhythm at that point, but he showed quite a bit of maturity as a sophomore to step in and make a big shot like he did.”
Monticello (19-4, 7-2), though, was still in position to win. The Sages got a great look from 6-foot-6 Bryan Phipps with 8.1 seconds left, but Phipps couldn’t get the roll on a four-footer. St. Teresa’s Adam Peters was fouled on the rebound and made 1-of-2 from the line to put the Bulldogs ahead by two.
On Monticello’s next possession, Ryan Donohue worked into the lane and got a good look that rimmed out. Matt Kruse grabbed the rebound and was fouled with no time left on the clock. Noonan called a timeout, and when Kruse stepped to the free throw line, no one else was on his side of the court and every eye was on him. He needed to hit both to continue the game, but missed the first one. He took and made the second, but it didn’t matter.
“You could point to that, but we had a lot of other opportunities,” Monticello coach Kevin Roy said.
St. Teresa was close to blowing Monticello out in the first half. Ross Anderson was 5-for-5 from the field in the first quarter for 12 points and the Bulldogs led by 17, 24-7, after
Williams’ only basket in regulation 24 seconds into the second quarter.
“That’s the best quarter we’ve played offensively since the first game of the season,” Noonan said. “Everything was clicking, our ball movement was good and kids were stepping into shots and knocking them down.”
But Monticello chipped away. The Sages cut the lead to 10 at half. Then, with Williams and Anderson on the bench with foul trouble, Monticello trimmed the lead to five after three quarters and tied the game 38-38 on a Nick Stokowski 3-pointer with 2:50 left.
St. T looked in control up a basket with the ball with 30 seconds left, but a Stokowski steal-and-layup tied the game. The Bulldogs had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Williams missed a floater in the lane and Kurtis Minton couldn’t cash in the offensive rebound.
The game between one-loss Okaw teams that decided the leader with one week left in the regular season didn’t lack in excitement. But like a lot of Okaw games this season, it wasn’t pretty.
Neither team shot well. After beginning the game by hitting nine of its first 15 shots, St. Teresa made just six of its next 43 and ended up shooting 25.9 percent (15-of-58).
“Our guys stayed disciplined and worked for the shots we wanted, and we got some good shots, but they just weren’t falling,” Noonan said.
It’s easy to blame Kruse’s free throw or Phipps’ late miss as the reason the Sages lost, but the truth is Monticello missed more than it made from five feet and closer. The Sages shot 32.1 percent (18-of-56), including 2-of-11 (18.1 percent) from 3-point range.
“We have to capitalize better than we did,” Roy said. “We talk about going strong and finishing at the basket, and that’s what we needed to do.”
Peters played what was probably his best game of the season, battling fearlessly against Monticello’s twin towers (6-6 Phipps and 6-8 Kruse) inside. He finished with six points and five boards.
The Bulldogs aren’t loaded with talent, but there isn’t a better team in the conference at grinding out wins. St. Teresa has won nine games by 10 points or less, and that’s why St. Teresa can wrap up the title with wins next week against Shelbyville and Meridian.
“I’m proud of our toughness,” Noonan said.