Trailing 46-40 with only 2:07 left, the Creston boys nearly completed a furious comeback to avoid a second-straight defeat on Friday.
Creston’s Luke Neitzel put the finishing touches on a 24-point night with two free throws to get the Panthers within two at 46-44 with 43 seconds left. A Kuemper miss of a one-and-one free throw opportunity at :30 gave the Panthers a chance at a tying or winning basket.
With 24 seconds left, Creston coach Billy Hiatt called a timeout to set up his team’s offense. With no open shot attempt developing, he called another with 6.9 seconds remaining.
“The first time, we were trying to run a play, but they switched up on us and we didn’t get the guys quite where we wanted them, so that’s why I called another timeout,” Hiatt said. “We drew something up for a back screen, and Colby would peel out to the top of the key. Briar moved to the corner, with Luke on the back side. Briar got a shot around the 3-point line.”
The shot by Evans from the corner with about :02 left bounced high off the rim. Taylor, Creston’s 6-6 forward, used his reach to tip the ball back toward the basket, and it went through the net.
Both teams jumped in celebration, as well as the ample home crowd, as the Panthers felt it was shot before the buzzer, while Kuemper believed it to be too late.
Officials waved off the shot, declaring it did not leave Taylor’s hand in time, which left the Knights on top, 46-44. The officials immediately left the floor without conferring on the close call.
“It looked like it was good, which would put us in overtime,” Hiatt said, “so we’re disappointed with it.”
“I couldn’t tell,” said Kuemper coach Tyler Edwards. “That’s why I don’t wear the stripes. That’s a tough call.”
A few minutes after the gym had cleared, Panther assistant coach Kristopher “Kritter” Hayes walked in with the team’s videotape. His observation concurred with Hiatt’s view.
“It was closer than I thought, but yes, the ball was halfway between Colby’s fingers and the rim when the clock hit 0:00,” Hayes said.
Nonetheless, the comeback officially fell short on a night when Neitzel turned in one of his career-best efforts with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, 4-5 at the line, eight rebounds and two steals.
“Neitzel was amazing,” Edwards said. “At the end, we switched off and put (Cole) Neary on him. He’s a little quicker and Neitzel wasn’t able to get the drive on him. Coach Hiatt had an excellent set there at the end and Evans got an open look. It just didn’t go in.”
Edwards said his team defended better than in the loss three days earlier to Red Oak. The Knights also used a size advantage for consistent inside scoring. Sam Brincks, a 6-6 junior, scored 15 points and Neary, a 6-6 forward, added 13.
Chris Halbur, a hefty 6-5 senior post player, tallied 12 points. Riley Bach, a 6-4 senior reserve, fouled out on a personal foul and technical foul late in the third period.
Neitzel already had 15 points at halftime as three Panthers — Trey Thomsen, Taylor and Evans — already had three fouls with Kuemper in front, 28-27. Creston held a 33-32 edge after the third period, but quickly got outscored 14-7 in the next six minutes.
The Panthers, only 1-of-15 from 3-point range for the night, hit a cold shooting stretch.
“We stopped attacking inside and they took it inside on us,” Hiatt said. “Their size gave us some fits. We kept fighting back to get into it. It was one of those kind of games.”
Kuemper Catholic was the only conference team to beat Atlantic, and now owns the only Hawkeye 10 triumph over Creston.
Creston, now 9-2, lost at home to Atlantic on Tuesday in a game that did not count in the conference standings. Friday’s game did count, leaving the Panthers in a logjam atop the league at 5-1 along with Atlantic (6-1) and Harlan (5-1). Kuemper is 5-2, having lost to Harlan and then in the upset to Red Oak.
It’s a road week for the Panthers, playing at Glenwood Tuesday, Shenandoah Friday and at Class 2A top-ranked Nodaway Valley Saturday in Greenfield.
KUEMPER (46) — Sam Brincks 6 3-7 3 15, Chase Rupiper 5 3-5 13, Chris Halbur 5 0-0 12, Riley Bach 1 1-1 3, Cole Neary 0 2-2 2, Nick Greteman 0 1-1 1. Totals — 17 10-17 46. 3-point goals — 2-5 (Halbur 2). FG shooting — 17-38 (44.7 percent). Rebounds — 26 (Neary 6, Tigges 6, Bach 4). Assists — 15 (Alex Drees 7). Steals — 10 (Halbur 4). Team fouls — 16. Fouled out — Bach.
CRESTON (44) — Luke Neitzel 10 4-5 24, Colby Taylor 4 2-2 11, Briar Evans 2 1-2 5, Trey Thomsen 0 2-2 2, Kainen Somers 1 0-0 2. Totals — 17 9-14 44. 3-point goals — 1-15 (Taylor 1). FG shooting — 17-40 (42.5 percent). Rebounds — 21 (Taylor 9, Neitzel 8, Thomsen 2). Assists — 3 (Somers 2, Thomsen 1). Steals — 11 (Thomsen 3, Taylor 3, Neitzel 2). Blocked shots — 1 (Taylor 1). Team fouls — 16. Fouled out — None.
Kuemper — 12 28 32 46
Creston — 9 27 33 44