TOLEDO – Call it sweet redemption.
Following a 33-point blow-out loss at home to Toledo Whitmer on Jan. 6, Fremont Ross eagerly awaited its rematch with the Panthers on Friday night.
Everything that went wrong for Little Giants in January, went right Friday. None more so than Grant McConnell’s drive to the basket and layup with 6.2 seconds left to give Ross the lead.
Ross’ defense then held off Whitmer’s last-ditch, game-winning shot attempt and held on for a 49-48 victory.
“James (Wright) went up, I thought he was going to drive it, I told him to drive and then dish,” McConnell said. “Then he passed to me and I said, ‘I’ve got to take the shot.’ And it went in. It was great.”
The victory erases the bitter taste remaining in the Little Giants’ mouth from their 66-33 loss to the Panthers more than a month ago.
“It does feel good, especially for us, for how poorly we played the first time we played them,” Ross coach Mark Gedeon said. “That one was definitely the worst game of the year, no question on that one.”
The Little Giants quickly established they were not the same team the Panthers saw in January.
Ross started the game 7-for-11 in the first quarter to jump out to an 18-9 lead. Whitmer chiseled away at the deficit, trailing by five at halftime. The wheels nearly came off for the Little Giants in the third quarter.
Whitmer outscored Ross 11-0 to start the second half and held Ross to just four points and one field goal in the third as the Little Giants trailed by as many as seven.
Whatever tightness Ross played with in the third quarter immediately vanished on the opening possession of the fourth quarter. Brody Chudzinksi made his only bucket of the night, a 3-pointer from the corner, to bring the Little Giants back to within two. A 3-pointer by Wright two minutes later gave Ross the lead once again, 41-40.
“That’s probably the second-biggest shot of the game,” McConnell said of Chudzinski’s basket. “That broke a big dry spell. That’s the nice thing about having a team full of shooters, any one of us can make it at any time and he stepped up.”
Ross led 47-46 with less than 30 seconds to play. Sam Hickey scored with 15.4 to go to put Whitmer ahead and set the table for McConnell’s heroics.
“I knew (McConnell) had a hot hand coming in,” Wright said of the final play. “Whether it was me or him, I knew somebody was going to make it. I just felt I needed another assist, so I gave it to him.”
Both Wright and McConnell lead Ross (6-13 overall, 2-9 Three Rivers Athletic Conference) with 13 points each.
Whitmer’s Montrece Collins led the Panthers (5-12, 2-9) with 13 points and 11 rebounds but, after dominating the first half with 10 points and nine boards, was held without a field goal in the second half by Ross’ defense, led by Tavarius Simms, Steven Blodgett and McConnell.
“I had faith in my team for the back-side help so I was trying to front (Collins),” Simms said. “I had Grant McConnell on my back side so when they were trying to lob it to him, we were able to block the pass.”
The win is Ross’ second in a row where the Little Giants have scored the go-ahead basket in the game’s waning moments. The Little Giants topped Marion Harding 48-46 Tuesday with a basket by Simms with two seconds to play.
“Back-to-back shots inside of 10 seconds and wins by one and two, you see the excitement of the kids right now,” Gedeon said. “We kept talking about ‘If you keep working hard, good things will happen.’
“Right now we’re playing competitive basketball and that’s exciting for us.”