Circle boys overcome halftime deficit to win in OT

Lionel Tipton

TOWANDA – The first half of the El Dorado-Circle boys basketball game Friday night bore little resemblance to the finish.

The Wildcats took control from the beginning, jumping to a 23-8 lead after one quarter and leading 38-27 at the half.

But Circle never gave up, chipping away at the deficit and taking its first lead with 1:18 left in regulation, helped by a three-point play, two technical free throws and a layup in the ensuing possession.

The teams went into overtime, scoring just two points each in the first extra period before Circle got a crucial boost from junior guard Luke McGinnis, scoreless through the first five quarters – “Not even the first overtime,” he quipped – but who scored all of his eight points in the game in the second overtime and lifted the host Thunderbirds to a 74-70 victory.

It was Circle’s first triumph in five games.

McGinnis’ late heroics began on an unorthodox note – a fallaway three-pointer from the top of the key to open the second extra period.

“If I’m not hitting good, if I just get one shot through the bucket, I’m good from then on out,” he said afterward. “I just need to see it go through.”

McGinnis said it was good to finally dent the win column, that it came against a rival made it that much sweeter.

“It makes it a little bit better,” he said. “We’re all happy and thankful to have this one, because it meant a lot to all of us.” 

For much of the game, however, the battle seemed to be between Circle senior sharpshooter Drew Middleton and El Dorado sophomore L.J. Berkstresser. Berkstresser was hot early, scoring 13 first-half points, the same as Middleton. Each had three three-pointers in their output.

But Middleton had 13 in the second half, and helped McGinnis with a three-pointer in the second OT. Berkstresser scored all 10 of the Wildcats’ points in the second overtime. The first overtime was mainly scoreless, with Middleton and Berkstresser each hitting their team’s only field goal.

Middleton’s 31 points edged out Berkstresser’s 30 for game-high scoring honors.

“We didn’t get down on ourselves (early),” Middleton said. “We trusted each other and hit some big shots, played good defense, and it was a good team win.

“We needed that bad.”

Berkstresser’s total surprised some of the Circle players.

“We hadn’t seen him make a lot, but he did really good (Friday),” McGinnis said of Berkstresser.

McGinnis’ late flurry wasn’t surprising to Circle coach Bo Horyna.

“He’s been one of our best scorers through the first four games,” Horyna said. “It just took him awhile (Friday) to get going. 

“He finally got going, and that was probably what pulled us over the hump.”

A critical part of the game came late, when a three-point play, two technical free throws and an ensuing basket turned a 55-51 deficit into a 58-55 lead.

“That was definitely a momentum-changer for us,” Horyna said. “It ended up being a seven-point swing.” 

Determination was a key to the comeback, Horyna said.

“This team has been that way all year,” he said. “They just don’t know the word ‘quit,’ like I told them (Friday night). There was one time I looked up (and) we were down 15 or 16, and we don’t have one play where you can score 15 or 16 points in one possession.

“So I told them that we’re just going to have to keep coming back, one possession at a time, get defensive stops, and we did a good job of running our offensive sets, especially late in the game.”

One thing the game was not was a free-throw clinic. Both teams hit just 14 of 30 attempts.

“We missed ours early; they missed theirs late,” Horyna said. “That was probably the difference.”

First-year El Dorado coach Drew Culbertson said he wasn’t surprised at the Circle comeback.

“It always is (close) with Circle,” he said. “It seems like no matter what, it’s going to be a close game usually.”

Even after the 23-8 first-quarter blowout?

“I could see that coming,” Culbertson said. “We came out strong and were executing and doing what we wanted to do, and then … we just stopped doing those things after awhile and it didn’t go our way.”

 He pointed to the third quarter, in which the Wildcats scored just 13 points, as being a turning point.

“The third quarter, in general,” Culbertson said. “We didn’t do what had gotten us to that point of taking a lead. The big thing is, we stopped getting stops. They really took advantage of some offensive rebounds, and just us not moving our feet defensively.”

“Sometimes, when we’re not making our shots, our defense gets a little worse. We didn’t play very good defense in that second half, for sure.”

Circle 74, El Dorado 70 (2OT)

El Dorado 23;15;12;8;2;10 – 70

Circle 8;19;12;2;14 – 74

El Dorado: Berkstresser 6 (5) 3-4 30, Sundgren 4 2-4 10, Kemboi 4 2-4 10, Clausing 3 2-5 8, Baker 0 (1) 0-0 3, Veatch 1 1-2 3, White 0 2-3 2, Summers 1 0-0 2, Rice 0 1-4 1, Wittenberg 0 1-4 1. Totals 19 (6) 14-30 70.

Circle: Drew Middleton 6(5) 4-4 31, Koehn 4 5-13 13, Cowman 1 (1) 5-7 1, Smith 4 0-4 8, McGinnis 1 (2) 0-0 8, Galloway 1 0-2 2, Killman 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 (8) 14-30 74.