Sometimes you can grade the mettle of a team by how well they battle adversity on a bad night.
On a night where Evergreen committed 19 turnovers and missed numerous layups and free throws, the Vikings made three huge plays in the final 45 seconds – the last a Mason Loeffler free throw with 0.4 on the clock – to grab a 44-43 home victory over Ottawa Hills Monday.
The game was the season opener for Evergreen.
“It’s a win,” said the winningest coach in Viking history Jerry Keifer. “We had two of our guys who got their first real varsity experience (Evan Lumbrezer and Ethan Loeffler) find out what it’s like to play in a tight game like this and make plays in the last few minutes to help us win a game.”
Nate Brighton’s three-pointer with 1:16 left in the first gave Evergreen a 12-9 first quarter lead, despite committing six turnovers in the stanza.
Shane Ruetz’ corner triple starting the second gave the Vikes a six-point edge, but two unforced turnovers led to John Kight buckets to let the Green Bears claw back to within 16-13.
Caiden Coy’s basket after another turnover brought Ottawa Hills even at 19-19 with 3:39 left in the half.
CJ Houk put the Vikings back up with a three-ball from left of the top of the key, but Ottawa Hills caught and passed Evergreen on an AJ George hoop with 24 ticks left for a 24-23 Bear lead at the break.
Evergreen clamped down defensively starting the third and went on a 9-2 run to regain a six-point lead.
Brighton scored inside from Jack Etue, then Lumbrezer found Ethan Loeffler in tight for a score, and followed up with a dish to Mason Loeffler for a resounding slam that led to a 32-26 lead.
However the Vikings went cold after that and Kight hit a pair of triples, the second giving Ottawa Hills a 34-32 lead late in the third.
Brighton’s spin to the rim tied the game heading into the fourth and Mason Loeffler’s three-point play starting the final quarter gave Evergreen a 37-34 lead.
Lumbrezer’s baseline drive and reverse with 5:37 left bumped the spread to 41-37, but again Evergreen went cold the next five minutes, missing a pair of layups and a number of shots inside.
Cole Anderson’s three-point play with 1:34 left put Ottawa Hills back up 43-41, however, Brighton’s third chance putback with 40 to go tied the game.
“Nate really got us going early and then hit the big bucket late for us,” said Keifer. “That’s what you expect out of a four-year starter and one of your leaders to do whatever it takes to get the ‘W’.”
Ottawa Hills played for one but the Vikings took the Bears out of their system defensively, and with less than 10 seconds on the clock, Lumbrezer took a charge from Drew Hoffman going to the rim to give Evergreen possession with 2.7 left.
Etue’s sideline inbounds found Mason Loeffler in the corner and after Kight hammered him on the shot attempt, the Viking senior made the second of two for the game winner.
“We drew up something that when they called timeout we changed in the huddle after they saw our look,” explained Keifer. “We got the ball to Mason for what was a good look and he got hammered and made the free throw.
“It wasn’t pretty by any means. But it’s a win against a quality opponent who has some history and gets us ready for the next 21 games.”
Evergreen shot just 47 percent from the floor, that included no less than six missed layups.
The Vikings also shot just 57 percent from the foul line.
Evergreen held a 26-18 edge on the glass and after a 13 turnover first half, were guilty of just six in the second half.
Brighton led the Vikings with 17 points and 17 rebounds. Mason Loeffler added 14 points.
Lumbrezer scored just two points but had six assists, three steals and took three charges while committing just a single turnover.
“Evan is going to be really, really good,” expressed Keifer. “It’s been a while since the quickest kid we’ve had on the floor has been our point guard. His hands are always on the basketball. He sticks his nose right in there and sometimes where it really doesn’t belong. We’ll take that stat line any day like that.”
Kight led Ottawa Hills with 14 points.
Evergreen travels to Swanton Friday night and then Otsego on Saturday.
Reach Joe Blystone at firstname.lastname@example.org