PAOLI, Ind. – Leading by 12 with just more than three minutes left in the game, Providence nearly gave it away before holding on for a 45-43 win over South Spencer in the semifinal of the boys’ Class 2-A Paoli Regional on Saturday morning.
Down two with 19 seconds remaining, South Spencer had trouble getting into its offense thanks to a frantic Providence defensive effort. After a held ball went to the Rebels with seven seconds left, Kobe Stephens got a good look from 3-point range – only to have the potential game-winner bounce off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“I thought he made it,” Providence coach Andrew Grantz said. “I thought that was it.”
Providence, which improved to 18-7, advanced to play Linton-Stockton in the regional final on Saturday night at 8 p.m.
A loss by the Pioneers seemed mighty unlikely throughout the course of the game, as Providence never trailed and held a 10-point lead at the end of the first, second and third quarters.
Leading 30-20 going into the fourth quarter, the Pioneers had at least an eight-point lead through the early part of the quarter, and two free throws each from Alex Judd and Sean Morris pushed the lead to 42-30 with 3:08 remaining.
In control of the game, the Pioneers lost control – and it almost cost them the game.
“We were wanting to run our grind offense, which is not a stall offense,” said Grantz. “But we were playing not to lose. We were worried about missing the shot instead of being aggressive.”
South Spencer’s Dylan Kelly sparked the comeback attempt with a 3-point goal to make it 42-33 with three minutes remaining. During the next minute against a tough South Spencer defense, Providence committed three turnovers and Kelly capped an 8-0 run with a free throw at the 2:04 mark.
Leading 42-38 with two minutes left, Providence continued to struggle, and it wasn’t until a free throw by Juston Betz with 41.8 seconds remaining that the Pioneers ended the scoring drought. It was 43-38 when South Spencer’s Matthew Embry was fouled on a 3-point shot and hit all three from the line to make it a single possession game (43-41) with 36.1 seconds remaining.
Providence answered with two free throws by Sam Conrad for a 45-41 lead, but South Spencer got those points back with a field goal by Jesse Stallings moments later.
It was 45-43 when Providence’s Eli Coker had a chance to make it a two possession game with 19 seconds left. But he missed both free throws, and the Rebels had their chance to move on.
On South Spencer’s final possession, the Pioneers survived.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty as long as you win,” said Grantz.
Griffin Libs, who would face foul trouble for much of the game, got the Pioneers off to a fast start – scoring eight points to make it 8-1 with 5:10 left in the first quarter. Coker added back-to-back field goals to put Providence on top 12-3 and a put back by Judd at the buzzer made it 16-6 at the end of the quarter.
Providence closed out the half on a 7-1 run capped by Coker’s three-point play to make it 25-15 at the break.
For the game, Coker scored 15 points, while Judd turned in a 13-point, 12-rebound effort for the Pioneers. Libs, who sat for much of the second half due to foul trouble, added 10 points.
South Spencer, which finished at 17-9, was led by Embry and Kelly with 11 points each.
MORE REGIONAL COVERAGE
Class 2-A Paoli Regional
Providence 16-9-5-15 – 45
South Spencer 6-9-5-23 – 43
Providence (18-7) – Griffin Libs 10, Eli Coker 15, Landon Sprigler 2, Alex Judd 13, Sean Morris 2, Sam Conrad 2, Juston Betz 1.
South Spencer (17-9) – Jesse Stallings 7, Matthew Embry 11, Caleb Helms 3, Will Cox 3, Trey Toler 4, Dylan Kelly 11, Kobe Stephens 4.
3-point goals – Libs 1, Embry 2, Kelly 2, Cox 1.