NORTH JUDSON — There was no shortage of recent success for Marquette Catholic and Times No. 2 Andrean entering the Class 2A North Judson Regional semifinal on Saturday.
The Blazers were coming off of their sixth straight sectional title, while the 59ers secured their second consecutive championship last week. And if that wasn't enough, the match-up served as an unofficial rematch of last season's regional semifinal in which Andrean edged past Marquette Catholic in overtime.
This year's contest didn't need extra minutes, but it still went down to the wire. With the game tied, 59ers sophomore Nicky Flesher was fouled by Blazers senior Colin Kenney with one second to left in the game. Following a timeout by Marquette Catholic, Flesher stepped up and knocked down a go-ahead free throw that proved to be the difference in Andrean's 71-70 victory.
"When it comes down to it, free throws are a big part of the game," said Flesher, who usually makes clutch plays as a wide receiver for the 59ers. "Once I got up to the line, I knew that was probably going to be one of the biggest shots I ever had to make, so I just did what I had to do."
After converting the first free throw, Flesher was instructed to miss the second so the Blazers wouldn't have a chance at a game-winner. The sophomore scored nine points and was 4-of-4 from the charity stripe before his final attempt, and he did what he was asked to do — sort of.
When Flesher released the ball, the shot was wide left and didn't appear to hit the rim. However, the last second still ran off of the clock when Blazers forward Joe Andershock grabbed the rebound. The referees ultimately deemed that Flesher's missed free throw barely grazed the rim, and Marquette Catholic coach Fred Mooney was in disbelief over the no-call.
If the ball didn't hit the rim, the Blazers (17-8) would have had one last chance to run a full-court play for a potential game-winner, but they never got the opportunity. Westview (25-5) also advanced to the title game.
"To me, that didn't hit rim," Mooney said. "It hit the backboard. But we can talk about those things from now until the cows come home. It doesn't change a thing."
Kenney led all players with a game-high 26 points, five assists and team-high six rebounds, and did everything he could to keep Marquette Catholic's season alive. Andrean built a 62-50 lead heading into the fourth quarter — capped off by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Flesher — but Kenney wouldn't go away.
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The Blazers' all-time leading scorer — amounting 1,884 points during his career — scored five points in the final frame and dished out three assists to help his team claw its way back. And with the game on the line, he provided a crucial assist to junior Jake Tarnow.
Trailing 70-67 with less than a minute left, Kenney had the ball at the top of the key and was sizing up his defender for a long jumper. The senior had already nailed four of his nine 3-point attempts and could have taken the shot to tie it, but instead he drove to the paint and passed it out to Tarnow.
The junior, who scored 17 points, never hesitated and buried a 3-pointer to even the score.
"I loved to see that," Kenney said. "That was huge to see Jake step up and play that role."
Kenney believed that basket would eventually send the game to overtime. But even after a controversial ending in which Flesher sealed the game, the senior said he had a lot of respect for Andrean (18-8), who was led by sophomore Kyle Ross and senior Johnny Carrothers.
After a strong showing in sectional play, Ross continued to dominate for the 59ers. The sophomore led Andrean with 20 points and a team-high 11 rebounds, and he set the tone early for his squad with a baseline dunk in the first quarter.
"As soon as I did the crossover, I saw I had the first two steps," Ross said. "So I was just like, 'I'm gonna go up and dunk this.' I hadn't really had too many this year."
Carrothers scored a team-high 22 points, notching 13 points in the second half, and handed out four assists. Andrean coach Brad Stangel commended the senior for his late-game poise, especially after squandering a 14-point third quarter lead, and added that downing Marquette Catholic was no easy task.
"We didn't tell our guys to stall," Stangel said. "We wanted to be aggressive. But give them credit. I mean Colin Kenney, is he good or what?"