ST. JOHN — Valparaiso after-school basketball practices often feature three-minute mini games with an array of lineups competing in intense bursts of all-out play.
If and when Brandon Newman’s group loses on rare occasions, the losing streak always ends at one. There’s an explosion of adrenaline and resilience, and the next game is bad news for the opposing group.
That fight-over-flight mentality kicked in Friday night in the first overtime game the Vikings have played all season, and star guard Newman and the Times No. 1 Vikings dominated the extra four-minute period to take home a hard-fought 69-62 Duneland Athletic Conference road win against Lake Central.
“We huddled up and told each other we’re not going to lose this game,” Newman said. “We didn’t do everything perfect, but we performed well and scored on every possession. The name of the game is score more than the other team, right?”
Newman had another outstanding game with 30 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and no turnovers, but he missed a crucial free throw with 26.1 seconds left in regulation that allowed Lake Central a sliver of space in which to start an eventual game-tying rally.
He then was called for goaltending on the game-tying shot, a baseline drive by Conner Tomasic with 3.8 seconds to play. Tomasic, a senior, had scored a layup earlier to cut the lead to 55-54 with 12.1 seconds left before Newman split a pair of free throws with 10.9 ticks to go.
Newman hit Tomasic’s shot off the backboard, and it was ruled that the ball was on its way down at the time. The score became 56-56, and Newman's half-court heave at the buzzer was wide.
“That was a bad play on me,” Newman said of the goaltending play. “I should have just gone for the rebound.”
Newman scored eight points in the overtime, including the first four for the Vikings (9-3, 2-0) in the period.
“In overtime he took over and knew it was time,” Valparaiso coach Barak Coolman said. “This was not only our first overtime game, but our first gut-wrench, figure-out-what-you’re-made-of game. We showed resilience, and it was a good experience.”
The Indians (9-6, 1-1) took full advantage of Valparaiso’s sluggishness following a 13-day break between games and Newman’s cold shooting in the first half to build a lead.
L.C. senior Keon Sellers had 10 points in the first period before foul trouble revolving around Newman sidelined him. Justin Graciano then got hot for eight points in the second quarter as Lake Central stayed in front until the final minutes of the half.
Newman went coast to coast for a dunk and then nailed a 3-pointer for a 25-24 Valpo lead, the Vikings’ first of the game.
Nate Aerts scored the Vikings’ final five points of the half to protect the lead. Aerts, a 6-foot-6 junior, scored 23 points and continues to keep defense honest when they over-pursue Newman.
“When Brandon is hot, it’s all about moving off the ball,” Aerts said. “We knew we had made some mistakes, but we talked about how we need to keep moving forward and forget the past. That really helped us in the overtime tonight. It showed that when we get into an intense situation we can always come together as a team.”
Graciano, who led the Indians with 25 points, hit one of his six 3s to tie the game at 42 in the third, but Lake Central then went 4:25 of game clock without a point, thus having to expend a lot of energy just to erase a 53-44 deficit in the final 2:30 and dramatically reach overtime.
“We’ve been talking about leaving everything on the floor, and the kids did that tonight,” L.C. coach Dave Milausnic said. “I’m more proud of the kids in this loss than in any win this year. I’m disappointed in the loss, but not the effort of the kids.”