COLUMBUS — It was gut-check time for the Centerburg boys basketball team.
Trailing by six points with 1:23 left in regulation to top-seeded Cardington, the Trojans got a couple of big 3-pointers from Lyle Lindsey and went on to pull out a thrilling 64-61 overtime victory over the Pirates in the first round of the Division III District tournament Tuesday at the Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum.
“This was my dream and their dream since kindergarten,” said Centerburg coach Jim Simpson. “We battled back. The kids found a way to hit the big shot, grab the big rebound. They really came through for us.”
“This one stung. But, as I told the kids, at the end of the year, there are only four happy teams. It was just a matter of little things,” said Cardington coach Troy King. “You’ve got to give Centerburg credit. They earned this win.”
The Trojans (19-4) trailed nearly the whole game, battling back from several deficits, including a 10-point one early in the second quarter. But, each time they would get close, Cardington had an answer and it usually involved Central District Player of the Year Riley Thomas.
Thomas’ big play had given the Pirates (17-4) a six-point lead with 1:23 left in the game. But, Centerburg senior Lindsey, after scoring just two points through the first 3 3/4 quarters, came through with eight straight in the final one-minute-plus to help the Trojans send the game to overtime. His 3-pointer from the corner with 20 seconds left knotted the game at 55.
“I wasn’t even thinking. I knew I wanted to take the shot and wanted to hit it. It was a real good screen and I got open and knocked it down. It was great teamwork,” Lindsey said.
Cardington had a chance to win it in regulation, but Thomas missed a 3-pointer and Centerburg got the rebound and called timeout with three seconds left. Thomas forced a turnover and the Pirates got off a last-second shot that rimmed out and the game went to overtime.
The Pirates scored the first two baskets of overtime, but Lindsey came through with another big 3-pointer to knot the game at 59. Senior Skyler Simpson then gave the Trojans their first lead since it was 2-0 when he made a nice cut and got a layup off a feed from Drew Osborne.
“That was just a great cut to put us up,” Lindsey said.
After two misses by Cardington, the Trojans had a chance to put the game on ice. Lindsey missed two free throws, but Centerburg was able to get the rebound and Brandt Lambert was fouled. He made his two free throws to put the Trojans up four with 17 seconds left in overtime. After two free throws from Thomas, Lindsey redeemed himself at the free-throw line with one to put the Trojans up three with six ticks left on the clock. Thomas nearly sent the game to a second overtime, just missing a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We had two big chances for 3s, especially the one at the buzzer. We got a couple of good looks, they just rimmed out. That’s the game of basketball,” King said.
Things didn’t look so good for the Trojans early on in the game. After scoring the first bucket of the game, they didn’t dent the scoreboard again for nearly six minutes as Cardington took control. Thomas was getting his teammates involved, dishing off for three baskets and scoring one himself.
Turnovers were the big problem for Centerburg in that stretch, as the Trojans gave the ball up eight times in the first quarter. They were able to settle down a bit after that, but Cardington still stretched the lead to 10 points midway through the second quarter.
Down seven at halftime, the Trojans went to their two big seniors to inch back into the game. Brandt Lambert scored eight and Skyler Simpson added a bucket and two assists as the Trojans were able to knot the game at 30.
“I knew we had to keep up the intensity from the last game. I tried to make my presence known inside. We did a nice job of playing inside to out,” said Skyler Simpson.
Cardington was able to get it back to a seven-point lead (42-35) before the Trojans mounted another comeback. They were able to tie the game at 44 again, but watched the lead and possibly the game slip away as Thomas hit eight free throws that put Cardington up by six. That’s when Lindsey took over and sent the game to overtime.
Lambert finished the game with 21 points to lead the Trojans. He made 9 of 11 shots from the free-throw line, including two crucial ones in overtime. With the 21 points, Lambert passed the 1,000-point mark for his career at Centerburg. That gives the Trojans two 1,000-point men as Simpson passed the mark earlier in the season.
On Tuesday, Simpson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Lindsey had 14 points. T.T. Thompson had five points and Drew Osborne four.
Cardington was led by Thomas, who had 24 points and five assists. He canned 11 of 12 attempts from the charity stripe, but only hit on 6 of 18 shots from the field, including just 1 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc. Ryan Levering added 10 points and nine rebounds, while David Meacham had 10 points.
“We knew going in that he (Thomas) would get his points. We had to stop the other four,” coach Simpson said. “I thought Brandt did a great job on Thomas. He’s long and lanky and did a pretty good job defensively in shutting him down. And having Skyler inside kept him (Thomas) honest.
“The only thing was I was worried Brandt would get tired. But, I thought he stepped up and played well.”
With the victory, the Trojans advance to the district finals where they will take on Bloom-Carroll, a 40-36 winner over Heath. The game will be Thursday, March 11, at 6 p.m. at the coliseum.