Heading into the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s league matchup with Lower Lake, St. Helena held what it thought was a comfortable 47-35 lead.
The Saints created some separation from the Trojans in the second quarter and had maintained their double-digit advantage throughout the third.
But Lower Lake created some discomfort for the Saints in their own gym. The visitors opened the fourth with a 16-4 run to tie the game at 51-51. They even had a chance to win at the buzzer, but a deep three clanked off the rim as time expired to send the game to overtime tied at 56-56.
“We started kicking the ball around, turnovers, missed the front end of one-and-ones on free throws, and they started making their shots,” said St. Helena head coach Jim Gamble. “They’re an aggressive and physical team and we got a little complacent.”
While the Saints had coughed up an advantage that was as large as 16 points in the second half, they came out in overtime with new energy.
Led by senior Nick Jeworowski’s 23 points, nine of which came in the extra frame, the Saints avoided disaster and outlasted Lower Lake, 71-65, to improve to 5-3 in the North Central League I and 10-9 overall.
While the Saints had played well as a team all game, Jeworowski was a one-man show in overtime. He scored nine of his team’s 15 points, including hitting all three of his free throws, to help seal the win down the stretch.
“Nick just had a tremendous game,” Gamble said. “Rebounding and scoring, he just led the way.”
Jonathan Gamble chipped in a 14-point effort and hit a big three-pointer to set the tone for the Saints in overtime. Fawad Muhammad also scored 11 points while Caleb Jeske had nine and Christian Iano had seven.
The Saints left the gym with relieved smiles, but Jeworowski said that they need to improve in late-game situations if they want a shot at making it to playoffs, a team goal they set for themselves at the beginning of the season.
“I think we need to do a better job of closing out games, for sure,” he said. “We’ve got to do a lot better, we’ve got to move the ball and be patient because sometimes in those situations we get really frisky with the ball and pass immediately, which leads to turnovers usually.”
That’s exactly what happened in the fourth quarter on Tuesday. The Saints coughed the ball up on multiple key possessions, including their last one in regulation which almost cost them the game.
A turnover on the perimeter with ten seconds left led to a break away for Lower Lake. With ball in hand and maybe one St. Helena player to beat, Darian James ran full speed toward the Saints’ hoop. But as he crossed halfcourt, a teammate in the backcourt called a timeout, ruining the fastbreak and giving the Saints new life.
Out of the questionable timeout, Van Wilkins heaved a contested three just before the buzzer, but the ball clanked off the rim and the game headed to the extra frame, where Jeworowski erased any last notions of a Trojan comeback.
“I think we started backing off a little bit,” Jeworowski said about the Saints sloppy fourth quarter. “We started to let go a bit because we had a 12-point lead and we thought we were going to win. … A lot of what sent it to overtime was lazy passing and not being smart on defense.”
Coach Gamble agreed.
“Like our last game here against Fort Bragg, we have to learn to close out games,” he said. “It all comes down to valuing every possession, making our free throws, limiting our turnovers and knocking down some shots.”
Still, the Saints walked away victorious. What’s more is that this win over Lower Lake, their second this season, will mightily help the Saints come playoff time were they to qualify.
“This team is ranked higher than we are so this was a quality win, and it will really help us in the final rankings,” Gamble said. “We need to just take it one game at a time and we need some more wins in order to make the playoffs. But I’m really excited for the kids. It’s really important to play a close, tight game like this.”
The Saint continue NCL I play on Friday, when they’ll travel to Middletown to face the Mustangs.
Behind Jackson Corley’s 19 points, the Saints JV team defeated Lower Lake 67-47 to improve to 6-11 on the season.
“Tonight’s game showed a solid effort on both sides of the ball,” said JV head coach Meshach Osborne. “We had a little lull in the second quarter but bounced back. We had 10 players contribute on the offensive end and it’s always fun to watch the ball move.”
Emmet Bowen was second in scoring with 10 points, while Henry Dixon scored eight and Ivan Robledo scored seven.