The Iowa Central men's basketball team walked a fine line between victory and defeat here Sunday afternoon.
In the end, the Tritons (11-7 overall) used a clutch Jesse Jones game-winning hoop to narrowly escape with a dramatic 77-76 overtime triumph against NJCAA Div. I program Northeast Nebraska inside Hodges Fieldhouse.
"Don't ask me how we did it," ICCC head coach Dennis Pilcher said. "We turned the ball over our first three possessions and were the flatter team early on. Our guys were able to overcome some adversity, though, and just found a way to pull (the victory) out late."
Rhys Elliot paced four Tritons in double figures with 25 points, while Jones netted 14. Chris Tawiah contributed 13 off the bench, and David Andersen added 10. As a team, Iowa Central shot just 39.7 percent (27-for-68) from the field and went 19 of 23 at the charity stripe.
"We made a lot of little hustle plays, and our defense wasn't bad, either," said Pilcher. "In the second half, we did a much better job of getting the ball inside."
Down by only a pair at the break and as many as six points in the second half, Iowa Central eventually clawed its way back behind a pair of 9-0 bursts. One Elliot free throw with 35 seconds remaining in regulation pushed the Triton advantage to three, however, a pivotal triple from KJ Bluford on Northeast's next possession eventually sent the see-saw contest - which featured a combined 34 ties and lead changes - to an extra session after both squads missed shots in the waning moments.
IOWA CENTRAL 77, NORTHEAST NEBRASKA 76 OT
Iowa Central - Jesse Jones 4-12 6-6 14, Rhys Elliot 8-19 6-9 25, Jaleel Gray 3-12 0-0 7, Casey Sieren 3-7 0-0 6, David Andersen 4-7 2-2 10, Jerel Rose 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Tawiah 4-5 5-6 13, Jawad Adekoya 1-6 0-0 2, Puot Kudhot 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-68 19-23 77.
Northeast Nebraska - Sean McGary 3-10 2-3 8, Sean Scott 4-14 2-2 14, KJ Bluford 8-19 4-4 27, Kyle Kilgore 2-7 2-2 6, Khapri Alston 5-18 5-9 15, Corey Mitchell 0-4 0-0 0, Jabbar Washington 2-5 0-0 4, Blake Heppner 0-1 0-0 0, Rasheed Fairley 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 25-80 15-20 76.
Halftime score: Northeast Nebraska led 32-30. End of regulation: Tied at 67-67. Three-point goals: Iowa Central 4-17 (Jones 0-3, Elliot 3-9, Gray 1-2, Adekoya 0-3); Northeast Nebraska 11-36 (McGary 0-3, Scott 4-13, Bluford 7-15, Kilgore 0-1, Alston 0-1, Mitchell 0-2, Washington 0-1). Total rebounds: Iowa Central 48, Northeast Nebraska 46. Turnovers: Iowa Central 17, Northeast Nebraska 13. Total fouls: Iowa Central 15, Northeast Nebraska 16. Technical foul: Northeast Nebraska.
Trailing 76-73 with 1:02 left in the bonus frame, Iowa Central sealed the deal by reeling off the final four points down the stretch. A crucial missed front end of a one-and-one by the Hawks (12-6) helped set the stage for Jones' driving bucket with just eight ticks left on the clock.
Northeast's last-ditch longball attempt was then well off the mark, allowing the defending Region XI champion Tritons to prevail for a second straight game and fourth time in their past five outings.
"We set some good high post screens to allow Jesse to get to the basket," said Pilcher. "In those types of (late-game) situations, the defense is always scared to foul."
Reserve Casey Sieren grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out six assists for Iowa Central, while Tawiah pulled down 10 boards.
"Anyone can rebound on one side (of the basket), but Sieren did a nice job of going from one side to the other," Pilcher said. "Chris is starting to play with some more confidence now, too."
Bluford poured in a game-high 27 points for the Hawks on 8-for-19 shooting, including seven treys. Khapri Alston (15) and Sean Scott (14) were the other top offensive performers for Northeast, which finished 11 of 36 from downtown.
The Hawks, who failed to avenge an earlier setback to the Tritons, were also whistled for a rare administrative technical foul before the game for dunking in warmups.
Iowa Central returns to ICCAC play Wednesday at Kirkwood (10-8). Tip is set for 7:30 p.m. in Cedar Rapids.