Third time not a charm for VikingsPublished 11:47pm Monday, March 4, 2013
MATTAWAN — The third time was not the charm for the Niles boys basketball team Monday night.
After dropping a pair of close games during the regular season to Mattawan, a late rally by the Vikings fell short and the host Wildcats escaped with a 60-53 victory on the opening night of the Class A district tournament.
Trailing by eight points with just less than one minute to play, Niles got a long 3-point basket by senior Alec Brown and a layup by junior Tate Brawley to make it a one-possession game with 24 seconds remaining.
Following a Mattawan turnover and a timeout, Brawley had a clean look from behind the 3-point arc, but his attempt caromed harmlessly away.
Mattawan sealed the Vikings’ fate with four free throws during the final 14 seconds.
“We had a 3-point shot to tie with 16 seconds to go from a really good shooter in Tate Brawley, and we’ll take that every time,” said Niles coach Todd Pawielski, whose team finished 6-15 this season. “We knew they were going to deny Alec and that it was going to be difficult to get him the ball, so we used him as a decoy and Tate got a great look at it.
“Our kids never, ever stopped fighting for one second this year. They really represented our coaching staff and our community very well. They’re much-appreciated and they’re all going to be missed.”
Brown and junior Jeremy Wortham combined for 15 of the Vikings’ 17 first-quarter points to jump-start the offense and stake Niles to an early double-digit lead. A 14-2 scoring run by the Vikings staked them to a 17-7 lead after eight minutes.
Mattawan missed its first four shots to open the second quarter, before reeling off a 9-0 run of its own to pull within three points. Consecutive triples by Brawley and Brown extended Niles’ lead to six points, and the Vikings took a 27-22 lead into the intermission.
But a pair of long treys by freshman Gabe Pelak ignited Mattawan during the early stages of the third quarter, and the Wildcats’ full-court pressure late in the period helped produce an 11-1 scoring run and a 40-36 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
Niles misfired on its first seven floor shots to open the fourth quarter, and Mattawan did not relinquish its lead. Each time the Vikings clawed back to within striking distance the Wildcats hit a clutch shot, including pivotal triples by sophomore Darek Ditto and Pelak during the waning minutes.
“We just panicked a little bit when they got after us with the full-court pressure,” Pawielski said. “We had some very unforced turnovers where we needed to take care of the ball better. To go in with the lead at halftime, playing pretty well, then to be down by four (points) going into the fourth (quarter), that took a lot out of us.
“Our effort was fantastic, but at times our decision-making just wasn’t good enough. That’s kind of been symbolic of our year.”
Brown had a monster performance in his final game in a Vikings uniform, garnering game-highs of 27 points and 12 rebounds. Brawley chipped in with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Wortham added 11 points and three steals.
Seniors Gevanta Nichols, Jesse Jordan and Mitchell Dehn also played their respective final high school games for Niles, while injured senior Anthony Bice was not in uniform.
“We feel really bad (for the seniors),” added Pawielski. “These kids have been with us for a long time and each one has contributed to our program in his own way. They busted their butts every day in practice for sometimes not a lot of reward.”
The Vikings shot 31.9 percent from the field (15 of 47), committed just 11 turnovers and outrebounded Mattawan by a 39-30 margin.
Mattawan got a team-high 15 points from Pelak to pace a balanced attack. Senior Zachariah Meyers scored 13 points, Ditto had 11 and senior Darren Jacks added 10. The Wildcats shot 40.9 percent afield (18 of 44).
“We wanted to get everybody involved,” Mattawan coach Dan Hoff said. “By doing that, everybody had the ball enough to feel comfortable to shoot it. That really opened us up to some success.”
Alec Brown 27, Tate Brawley 11, Matthew Miller 0, Mitchell Dehn 0, Jesse Jordan 0, Gevanta Nichols 0, Jeremy Wortham 11, Gabe Stokes 4, Connor Glick 0, Cole Clemens 0. TOTALS: 15 17-27 53
Zachariah Meyers 13, Darek Ditto 11, Tyler Albertson 2, Darren Jacks 10, Myles Nesbitt 0, Caleb Doonan 4, Ben Richardson 0, Gabe Pelak 15, Scott Rooney 0, Josh Sovine 5, Joey Knapp 0. TOTALS: 18 16-23 60
Niles 17 27 36 53
Mattawan 7 22 40 60
3-point goals: Niles 6 (Brown 5, Brawley), Mattawan 8 (Meyers, Ditto, Jacks 3, Pelak 3). Total fouls (fouled out): Niles 18 (None), Mattawan 22 (None). Technical fouls: None. Niles record: 6-15