Gallatin County led by as many as eleven points and had a eight-point cushion with under seven minutes to go in Tuesday's 1A Boys Basketball Super-Sectional, but the Hawks committed several crucial turnovers down the stretch which allowed Nokomis to storm back in the fourth quarter and ultimately earn the trip to Peoria in overtime with a 57-54 victory at SIU Arena.
The Redskins almost got the win in regulation, but Gallatin County's Josh Belford banked in a desperation three-pointer just before the fourth quarter horn to force an extra four minute frame. With guard Anthony Storto confined to the bench after fouling out, the Hawks struggled offensively in the game's final eight minutes and Nokomis got a big triple from Austin Chausse in the OT to help their cause.
"We outplayed them for 28 minutes," said Gallatin County head coach Robert Patton. "The last four minutes we got tripped up and didn't handle the ball. (Storto) fouled out and that hurt us a little bit. We let them get back in it, they hit a couple big shots, and they deserved to win the game. That's just part of it."
Early in the game, the Hawks were in control despite the Redskins' attempts to take away the inside presence of center Andrew Drone on the Gallatin County offensive end. With two men on Drone on almost every play, the Hawks attacked from the perimeter where Daine Hish fired in a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter to help build a 14-8 lead after eight minutes.
Patrick Lowe also connected from beyond the arc in the first half and went into the break with eight points, but had to take an early seat after picking up his third foul with 4:29 left in the second period. The Hawks led by eleven at one point in the quarter, but a pair of jumpers by Nokomis' Tyler Herpstreith got the Redskins to within 24-17 at halftime.
Hish's fourth three of the night gave Gallatin County a ten-point lead early in the third quarter, then the Hawks started to get the ball inside to Drone. The 6'11 senior had 18 of his game-high 25 points after the break and Gallatin County led by eight after his layup with 7:01 to go in the fourth quarter.
"(Drone) had a huge night, but we didn't get him the ball enough," Patton said. "Late in the game with two minutes to go in the overtime, he hadn't touched the ball but one time. He's got to see the ball every trip down for us to be effective and to beat anybody."
Nokomis forced 13 Hawks turnovers in the second half, however, and none more crucial than the one with 3:53 to play that was followed shortly thereafter by Storto's fifth personal. A minute later, Devon Wright poked away a steal for the Redskins and was fouled on his way to the hoop before making both free throws to give Nokomis their first lead of the night at 40-39.
Page 2 of 3 - "We made some adjustments because they were bringing the big kid up to the top of the key," said Nokomis head coach Steve Kimbro. "That let us match up a little bit more on the ball handler. Then I think them losing their ball handler to fouls put a little more pressure on them, and that just helped us out."
"We just focused on the game. We've been very good down the stretch the last couple weeks, this is the time of year you want that."
Gallatin County shots continued to miss the mark late in the game allowing the Redskins to go up by three before a putback by Drone with 16.7 left in regulation. Herpstreith followed with two at the line for Nokomis, but Belford scored the first - and only - points of the night for the Hawks to come from someone other than Drone, Lowe or Hish by kissing his buzzer-beater off the glass and in to send the game to OT.
Patton said it wasn't so much the adjustments made by Nokomis as it was his team failing to convert on their looks at the hoop.
"The adjustment was the shots didn't fall (in the fourth quarter)," Patton said. "Everybody can coach when the shots fall. After they made their adjustments the shots didn't fall, and I don't think that their adjustments really caused us any problems, we just couldn't hit the shots."
"I thought we played pretty well other than the turnovers. I don't think they sped us up, I think we just got tight and made some bad decisions."
Chausse's three with 1:31 remaining in the overtime broke a 52-52 tie, and another Hawks turnover led to a free throw for Chausse at the other end to make it a two-possession game. Drone added another putback with 20.4 on the clock, but it would be the last bucket for Gallatin County.
"We came down and made a couple more silly mistakes and threw the ball away twice instead of taking the ball to the hole," said Patton. "We just didn't capitalize, didn't get the breaks when we needed them late."
Lowe (14 points) and Hish (12) joined Drone in double figures for the Hawks, who finish up the season at 28-4. Drone added seven rebounds - five on the offensive glass - and seven blocks. Wes McGuire chipped in with five assists.
"It's frustrating for me," said Patton. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't, but it's really frustrating for my seniors who have worked four years and dreamed of going to Peoria to play in a state tournament. It's been a tremendous season, they've had an outstanding season, they're wonderful kids."
The Redskins were led in scoring by Wright's 19 points, Chausse added 13, Evan Huber 12 and Herpstreith 10.
Page 3 of 3 - Nokomis (24-9) moves on to the State Semifinals on Friday where they will take on either Cissna Park or Mason City (Illini Central).