By MC WEEKLY SPORTS STAFF
BUNKER HILL — Peru’s boys basketball team led nearly the entire second half of the game against Maconaquah, and built its lead up to eight points with less than two minutes left Saturday night in the championship game of the Miami County Holiday Classic.
Then it all slipped away. Maconaquah staged a furious rally in the closing two minutes, forcing turnovers, hitting layups, getting fouled and working back into the game. The Braves took their first lead since just after halftime when point guard Trevor Hagan hit two free throws for a 56-55 advantage with just 0:09.4 left in the game.
Peru’s Eddie Childers was the next player to make a dramatic play. The senior guard got through the Maconaquah press, raced into the lane and sank a short jumper while getting fouled to re-take the lead with 3.3 seconds left. He hit the free throw for a 58-56 lead. Maconaquah’s K.J. Walton had the last gasp, but his running 3 at the buzzer was off target and Peru took the championship.
“With the time on the clock, I told Eddie, ‘We’ve got no timeouts, we’ve got to get it in bounds and you’ve got to go, you’ve got to get to the other end of the floor, try to create something,’” Peru coach Jim Metcalfe said. “We had to do something aggressive to get to the rim and not settle for a jump shot. Fortunately, he hit a big shot right there.
“Eddie’s spent a lot of time in the gym since the end of the season last year. He didn’t hit that shot by accident.”
That decided a thrilling game between county rivals whose only similarity is county of origin. Peru looked to be patient in the halfcourt and get the ball to 6-foot-11 center Seth Adelsperger in the halfcourt, then on the other end smother opportunities with size on defense. Maconaquah wanted to speed the game up with a variety of traps and pressure defenses. Each team had stretches where its style prevailed, leading to the back-and-forth finish, and two lead changes in the final 10 seconds.
Adelsperger led Peru (4-3) with 21 points and a dozen rebounds. He scored eight points in the fourth quarter, helping keep Peru ahead most of the frame. Childers added 16 points and Tyler Murphy 14.
Walton led the Braves (3-3) with 15 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. Maconaquah got 10 points from Adam Harts, and even more hustle plays as he sparked Mac’s late fightback with his tenacity on defense. Kyle Dinn and Trevor Hagan each had nine points. The Braves hurt their cause on the free-throw line.
“We’ve got to make free throws,” Mac coach Andy Steele said. “We’re averaging anywhere from 73-75 percent on the season and we go 17 of 30 from the free throw line. We did a great job of getting to it, but if we go 17 of 30, we’re not going to win ballgames, it’s that plain and simple.”
• North Miami beat Whitko 54-45 in overtime in the consolation game for its first win of the season. The Warriors' win snapped a 22-game losing streak.
Maconaquah beat Whitko 57-33 victory in Friday's opening semifinal at Maconaquah.
The Braves (3-2) got 15 points from Dinn, a dozen from Harts, eight from Wyatt Hughes, seven from Walton and six from Luke Hann.
Maconaquah’s defense did plenty of damage. Mac forced Whitko (1-6) into 25 turnovers with an assortment of defenses including halfcourt traps and full-court pressure. The Braves scored 13 points in transition off turnovers and added another 10 points in transition either by pushing the tempo after a defensive rebound, or beating pressure after inbounding.
Peru barely held off North Miami for a 44-40 win in the second semifinal.
Peru was up 30-10 at halftime and 36-27 at the end of the third quarter. North Miami closed to within 40-36 with 4:24 left, and kept on cutting into the Tigers' lead.
North Miami’s Keith Rouch hit a jumper, then hit two out of four free throws to cut Peru’s lead to three (41-38). The Warriors’ Damon Gipson then added two out of four more free throws to make it a one-point game (41-40) at :32.6.
Peru’s Austin Finicle hit his first free throw, but missed his second attempt, but Peru kept possession as Adelsperger grabbed the rebound. Childers was sent to the line and hit both free throws for the final 44-40.
“We didn’t do the things that we were coached to do, didn’t execute like we needed to, didn’t take care of the basketball that we needed to do, and we didn’t defend very well,” Metcalfe said after the game. “We talked all year that we have to be able to do those things to put ourselves in position to win games. We were fortunate [Friday] to come out of here with a win.
“To be frank, we didn’t deserve to win that game. North Miami played their hearts out. They were coached better, played harder, executed better. They should have won the game. We got lucky. Disappointed in the effort and disappointed in how we played, but a win is a win. We will take it, and move on.”
Adelsperger led Peru with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds. Finicle added nine points and Childers and Michael Richardson each had eight points apiece. Richardson also had 15 rebounds. Rouch led North Miami with 16 points, and Alex Borse added 14.