Jett Speelman rescued Newark Catholic on Wednesday. But like it did all night, Fairfield Christian had an answer.
Speelman’s off-balance 3-pointer with hands in his face banked in with five seconds left in regulation to force overtime in a Division IV district final. However, the poised Knights outscored NC 10-6 in the extra session to win 59-55 at the Ohio Expo Center Coliseum.
The Green Wave (22-4) saw their hopes for a second consecutive district title bounce off the rim to the tune of just 38 percent shooting from the field (20-of-52) against Fairfield Christian’s sagging 2-3 matchup zone, as well as 7-of-18 from the free-throw line.
Still, NC led most of the way, including 46-43 midway through the fourth quarter when Speelman powered in a putback. But the Green Wave missed four consecutive foul shots and didn’t score again until Speelman’s miraculous shot tied it at 49-49.
When Conor Keck scored on a putback starting overtime, it appeared NC had momentum with a 51-49 lead. But the Green Wave had three turnovers and didn’t make another field goal until Mitch Cox hit a long 3 with 22 seconds left, pulling NC within 58-55. It would get no closer.
The Knights (23-2) made 8-of-12 foul shots in overtime in winning their first district title. Fairfield Christian will play Danville, which stunned Africentric 61-51, in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ohio Dominican.
“I reminded everyone that we had been ahead of them before he hit that shot, and that we could do it again,” said the Knights’ Steven Carpenter, who scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half and overtime.
“I don’t think it was our best game, but we still put ourselves in position to win,” said Green Wave coach Eric Sheck, who graduates eight seniors that include 1,000-point scorers Speelman and David Meurer. “I thought we took some bad shots against the zone. The kids battled like crazy, but we didn’t shoot well and didn’t make plays, didn’t finish.
“We had some careless turnovers at inopportune times, and they capitalized. That’s high school basketball.”
Fairfield Christian lost 61-49 at Newark Catholic on Feb. 8, and the Knights said they watched tape every day of that loss. Point guard Zach Sullivan added 14 points for Fairfield Christian.
“We knew everything they were going to do, on offense and defense,” said 6-foot-6 Justin Potochnik, who stepped out and hit four 3s among his 22 points. “The last time, they got three-fourths of their scoring inside.”
The Green Wave led 24-19 midway through the second, but the Knights wouldn’t crack and tied it at 24 before Speelman made a 3 from the top of the key with 20 seconds left. Meurer had 10 first-half points for NC, but was held without a second-half field goal.
Speelman scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half and had four 3s for the Green Wave. Meurer added 13 points, three assists and three steals, and Keck had nine points and 12 rebounds as NC held a 34-26 rebounding edge, most of them offensively. Cox had eight points and two of NC’s eight 3s.
“They’re a great team, they really are,” Fairfield Christian coach Roger Hooper said. “They took us out of some things we wanted to do, but our guys found a way. We kept our composure through adversity.”
Sheck will sorely miss his eight seniors.
“I love them to death,” he said. “When I took this job, every one of them bought into me. It’s disappointing right now, but they should be proud of all they have accomplished for themselves and this program.”