Slow and steady didn’t win the race, but it did give Newark a fighting chance Friday against the long arm(s) of Mooseheart.
The Norsemen had the ball with 4.4 seconds remaining and a chance at a game-tying shot in the Class 1A Somonauk Regional final, but Mooseheart senior reserve J.J. Odunsi stole the ball to preserve a 25-22 win.
“I could see the play was dead from the start because the guy they wanted to go to (on the inbounds play) tripped and I just tried to anticipate the pass (to Evan Schomer),” said Odunsi, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw 22 seconds earlier that could have put the game on ice.
Odunsi drove to the basket and missed an ill-advised layup attempt and teammate Hameed Odunewu missed the tip-in as time ran out.
“I should have made the layup or not taken it at all and dribbled out the clock,” Odunsi said. “After missing the free throw, I definitely had to help the team out. That’s why I was in the game to begin with, because I’m the best free-throw shooter on the team.”
Newark (18-10) kept it close with a deliberate offense, patiently trying to work the ball for an opening in the Red Ramblers’ 1-3-1 zone for the rare uncontested shot against a long-armed front line.
“We’ve talked about it, when is somebody gonna do it?” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “I didn’t know when it was gonna happen but that’s a heckuva game plan.”
Newark held the ball for nearly two minutes on its opening possession before turning it over at the 6:14 mark. Mooseheart got two free throws from 6-7 Mangisto Deng, a layup from 5-9 Freddy Okito and a putback from 7-1 Akim Nyang and led 6-2 after one quarter.
Grant Riehle-Moeller beat the buzzer for a fastbreak layup for the Norsemen’s only points. And Mooseheart went scoreless in the fourth after leading 25-19 after three quarters.
“We tried to shorten the game, make it in the low 20s,” Newark junior guard Matt Eike said. “We knew if it was in the 40s, we were done.”
Deng, who finished with a game-high 14 points, added a three-pointer in the second quarter and the Ramblers led 11-4 entering the final minute of the half.
Eike was then fouled as time ran out. Ahrens told his players to go to the locker room with 0:00 on the clock. Mooseheart was whistled for a technical and Clausel sank two more free throws to pull Newark within 11-10.
“That’s four we probably shouldn’t have gotten but that was a big lift,” said Jack Clausel, who led with a team-high 11 points.
Mooseheart, which advances to the Serena Sectional, claimed a 14-9 edge in the third, though, and Eike’s three-pointer with 4:35 remaining was the lone score of the fourth.
“When they came out in that 1-3-1, we thought, if they’re gonna let us shrink the game, we’ll shrink the game,” Newark coach Rick Tollefson said. “We had a couple chances.”
Kane County circuit judge Ron Ackemann denied a request from Mooseheart student Rodrigue “Ceda” Makindu for a temporary restraining order against an IHSA eligibility ruling that would have allowed him to play.