Friday night’s game looked like it was in the bag for Andover’s boys basketball team.
Adam DeKoning made the second of two free throws to give the Trojans a 60-59 lead with 2.1 seconds left on the overtime clock. With a sense of the weight of this win in a highly contested battle, the crowd noise escalated to piercing levels.
Salina Central had other ideas. The Mustangs threw the inbound upcourt on the right side, where Rashun Allen caught the pass, turned and dribbled a couple of steps, stopped and popped a 3-pointer from deep.
He sank it as the buzzer sounded and lifted the Mustangs to a 62-60 victory. Salina Central stole the sub-state championship trophy from the Trojans on their home court, which was stunned by the miracle shot.
Coach Chad Wilmott said every loss is different, but this one left a sting with him and his Trojans.
“That’s a new one for me,” coach Wilmott said of the loss. “Nothing went wrong. They made a play. Kid made an amazing shot. We had the defense we wanted, they had a play drawn up, and the kid hit the shot.”
It was Andover that fought its way back to even force the overtime. Salina Central hit two free throws to take a 53-51 lead with 37 seconds to go. The Trojans wasted clock on their next possession before DeKoning, Andover’s big man, was forced to launch a tough 3-pointer that missed. Central rebounded the ball and was fouled.
But freshman Brayden Neuschafer missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with six seconds left. Ryan Bezdek took the outlet pass up the court on his own and made a sensational layup as the buzzer expired to forced the extra period.
The two teams exchanged baskets twice before Allen scored back-to-back and-1 layups to give Central a 59-57 lead. Eli Renoux scored a putback to tie the game, then Andover drew a charge on the ensuing possession to take possession with a chance for the lead.
The Trojans ran down the clock before getting the ball inside to DeKoning, who was tied up and drew the foul to set up the final two seconds.
In the first half, DeKoning and Central’s Jordan McNelly were the key match-up in the post. DeKoning shut him down for the most part, but when he got tagged with his second foul early in the second quarter and had to come out, the Mustangs attacked the Trojans. They outrebounded Andover 9-4 in the second quarter and scored second-chance points on three different possessions.
Central led 27-25 at halftime. The Trojans worked inside-out as Cental keyed in on stopping DeKoning. Senior Bryant Klusener and Bezdek each hit a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter to push Andover’s lead to 42-34.
Central’s defense came to life in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs forced seven turnovers in the quarter and slowly climbed their way back. It helped that Treyton Hines got hot from the floor. He hit three 3-pointers in the fourth, including one that tied the game 51-51 with 1:13 left. After another Andover turnover, he hit two free throws to give the Mustangs a lead before Bezdek’s last-second heroics.
DeKoning, one of the toughest big men in the state, finished the game with 17 points and made 9 of 11 free throws. Fellow senior Bezdek finished with two 3-pointers and 10 points. Klusener hit three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points.
“I’m proud as a coach to be with our guys. That’s a great group of guys and a great group of seniors,” Wilmott said. “We’ll miss them dearly.
“I love my guys. There’s nobody else I’d rather do this with.”
Zach Barclay and Dante Butler scored six points apiece for the Trojans.
Salina Central advances to the Class 5A state tournament that will be played in Topeka starting Thursday, March 13.