ATLANTIC — Nodaway Valley’s third straight trip to state was erased by a shot with less than a second left.
In a Class 1A substate game that had gone back and forth all night here Saturday, the Pride of Iowa Conference champions had the ball with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter, leading Corner Conference champion East Mills 59-57.
Then, 10 seconds later an uncharacteristic NV turnover just past midcourt opened the door for the East Mills Wolverines.
With 4.3 seconds left, East Mills guard Logan Currin was fouled by Zach Plymesser. East Mills was not in the bonus yet, so the ball was inbounded for one final shot to tie or win the game.
Michael Story, a defensive specialist averaging 4.6 points per game, drove down the left side of the lane with time running out, and launched an off-balance 12-foot shot.
The shot bounced off the rim, but reserve post player Noah Meyer was in position on the weak side for the rebound and quick putback released just before the buzzer.
The ball bounced up off the rim twice, and then after the buzzer sounded, fell through the net to force overtime.
East Mills controlled the bulk of the final four minutes, then held off a furious Nodaway Valley rally in the final seconds to hold on to a 66-65 victory.
It’s the first appearance for East Mills as a combined district. Nishna Valley, which combined with Malvern to form East Mills in 2008, qualified for state three times between 1987 and 1993, the last under current East Mills coach Kevin Shafer.
Nodaway Valley was denied a third straight trip to state, and sixth overall as a combined district of Greenfield and Bridgewater-Fontanelle.
Meyer said it was torture to watch his last-second shot in regulation bounce in the air before dropping in, and giving his team four minutes of new life.
“My heart almost dropped,” Meyer said. “I just saw the ball and knew I had to get it back up. I held onto it for a split second and put it back up. It bounced up, bounced up again ... I said, please go in!”
His prayer was answered.
East Mills, buoyed by the excitement of warding off elimination, controlled the opening stages of overtime by scoring the first seven points.
But the proud program of Nodaway Valley was not going down without a fight.
After Jacob Schafer’s free throw with 12 seconds left stretched East Mills’ lead to seven at 66-59, Nodaway Valley used quick strikes to get back within range.
TJ Bower, a veteran of coach Darrell Burmeister’s two previous state tournament teams, drilled a 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left to cut it to 66-62.
Nodaway Valley’s swarming pressure forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass as the East Mills receiver stepped on the baseline. Only .8 had run off the clock.
Zach Plymesser was found open in the far corner and quickly shot in another 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left. Now it was a one-point game at 66-65 and the throng of purple-Nodaway Valley fans in the north bleachers — glum just a few seconds earlier — showed new life with a huge roar.
This time, Story threw deep to Meyer near his own basket. Meyer was immediately fouled on the catch at 1.2 seconds.
He missed the one-and-one free throw attempt. Bower rebounded, took one quick dribble, and launched a 65-foot shot that struck the backboard. Time had run out on the NV Wolverines’ quest for a second three-peat to state. (The first was 2005-06-07.)
“We have been practicing that shot,” Burmeister said. “Except we do it from halfcourt. We do 50 pushups after practice, but the seniors shoot it, and if they make one we cut it down. We just needed one more second (to get to halfcourt).”
Burmeister said it’s difficult to think about how close the team was to finishing the two-point win in regulation.
“That ball could have bounced any way,” he said, of Meyer’s dramatic putback, “and Nodaway Valley kids are going to state. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, sophomore guard Jackson Lamb had lifted the NV Wolverines from a 57-55 deficit to a 59-57 advantage with four clutch free throws, the final two with just 37 seconds left.
On East Mills’ next possession, a pass to shooting guard Logan Currin, who suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter, was momentarily bobbled and Bower forced a tie-up and alternate possession was awarded to NV.
Bower, an 85-percent free throw shooter, had the ball crossing midcourt. But a pass was tipped by East Mills, which came up with a second chance to get a final shot. That’s when Meyer was on the scene for the rebound that forced overtime.
“We should have taken care of things earlier,” Burmeister said. “I think we underestimated their quickness. Their post player (Keegan Wederquist) and their guards are very quick. I thought their non-scorers got some big baskets. Obviously, the big one was when the guy got the rebound and put it in. You can say we were .2 seconds away from state.”
East Mills had 15 offensive rebounds in the game to seven by Nodaway Valley.
Nodaway Valley sank four 3-pointers by Lamb and Bower in the first quarter, when Nodaway Valley took a 17-8 lead. Coach Schafer said his team’s ability to withstand the flurry and actually take a 22-20 lead by the end of the period, was perhaps the key stretch of the game.
East Mills scored on the other end of Nodaway Valley’s fullcourt press so often in the closing rally, that Burmeister pulled it off and only used it sporadically, gaining more success with a halfcourt trap instead.
“Thank God they cooled off from the 3-point line after the first quarter,” Schafer said, “because I knew we couldn’t keep up that pace. Luckily, we stayed with them. Currin really toughed it out on that ankle, and he was guarding Bower. Our kids did a good job of helping on defense.”
It was East Mills’ turn to take a pair of six-point leads in the third quarter, but Nodaway Valley got it tied again at 48 with an 8-2 run.
East Mills had four players score in double figures, led by Jacob Schafer’s 15 points. Currin and Wederquist each added 14, and Wederquist grabbed 12 rebounds for his team, which owned a critical 41-31 advantage on the board. East Mills also took care of the ball, with only two more turnovers than Nodaway Valley’s eight.
“I have watched them and it doesn’t seem like they ever get tired,” Schafer said. “I was very worried about our conditioning in overtime. One thing that helped us was then they pulled off the press. I said, if we don’t have a fast break, walk the ball up. That will be your rest. Some of our guys never came off the floor.”
Bower led NV with 22 points, Lamb finished with 19 and Plymesser ended his Wolverine career with 10.
“TJ is the one probably hurting the most right now, because he wanted to carry this team to state,” Burmeister said. “But our guys didn’t quit. Twice in regulation it didn’t look good, and in overtime it didn’t look good. We made a ballgame of it.”
EAST MILLS (66) — Jacob Schafer 5 3-4 15, Logan Currin 6 0-0 14, Keegan Wederquist 6 2-3 14, Noah Meyer 5 0-1 10, Gabe Barney 2 1-2 5, Michael Story 2 0-0 4, Travis Tupper 1 1-2 4. Totals — 27 7-12 66. 3-point goals — 5-15 (Schafer 2, Currin 2, Tupper 1). FG shooting — 27-68 (39.7 percent). Rebounds — 41 (Wederquist 12, Currin 9, Schafer 8). Assists — 13 (Schafer 6, Story 3). Steals — 2 (Story 1, Wederquist 1). Turnovers — 10. Team fouls — 13. Fouled out — None.
NODAWAY VALLEY (65) — TJ Bower 9 2-2 22, Jackson Lamb 5 6-7 19, Zach Plymesser 4 1-3 10, Delson Grantham 3 2-2 8, Caleb Mueller 3 1-2 6. Totals — 23 12-16 65. 3-point goals — 7-23 (Lamb 3, Bower 2, Plymesser 1). FG shooting — 23-57 (40.3 percent). Rebounds — 31 (Grantham 9, Plymesser 7, Lamb 6, Bower 4, Mueller 4). Assists — 9 (Bower 3, Lamb 2, Plymesser 2). Steals — 7 (Bower 3, Plymesser 2). Blocked shots — 5 (Bower 2, Grantham 2). Turnovers — 8. Team fouls — 14. Fouled out — None.
East Mills — 22 34 49 59 66
Nodaway Valley — 20 34 48 59 65