Stepping to the foul line with the game tied and one second left against Long Reach Tuesday, Centennial’s Timi Tinuoye said he was right where he wanted to be.
“I love being able to take that shot with the game on the line … it’s a great feeling to be in that position and be able to come through for your team,” said Tinuoye, who had been fouled at the rim after dribbling the length of the court. “I was confident having the ball in my hands.”
Tinuoye’s confidence ultimately translated into results for the Eagles, as the senior forward knocked down the first of two foul shots to provide the deciding points in a 52-51 boys basketball victory over the visiting Lightning. Tinuoye finished with eight points, while Omari Ringgold chipped in with 16, Zach Olmstead had 12 and Joe Eads added 11.
Long Reach (11-7, 13-8), which had erased a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead in the final two minutes, had its desperation heave at the buzzer by Jeremiah Hall (9 points, 10 rebounds) rim out. The Lightning were led by Brian Green’s 16 points.
Afterward, as Centennial (11-7, 13-8) celebrated a victory that snapped a two-game losing skid against county teams, coach Chad Hollwedel says he was happy the ball found its way to one of his team’s leaders in the late-game situation.
“Without a doubt, (Timi’s) the one we wanted there in that spot,” Hollwedel said. “He’s been consistent from the line all year, shooting something like 84 percent on the season and he’s been in enough of these situations over the years that he knows how to handle it.”
Tinuoye’s late heroics capped off a game that featured several huge momentum swings.
Centennial built itself an 18-10 lead midway through the second quarter on the strength of a couple 3-pointers by Olmstead. Long Reach, however, answered with a 10-0 spurt to retake the lead, highlighted by a transition dunk by Green.
It looked like the Lightning were going to take the lead into the break, but Ringgold stole the ball in the final 10 seconds before halftime and ended up throwing down a dunk of his own to tie the game at 20.
“That was a big basket, not just for Omari, but for the whole team,” Hollwedel said.
The Eagles seemed to carry the momentum of Ringgold’s basket to close the half into the third quarter, building a nine-point advantage, 37-28, over the eight-minute period. Ringgold scored nine points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the stanza that created what was Centennial’s largest lead of the night.
Long Reach simply wasn’t done fighting, though. Behind big baskets from Green, Hall, Avery Allmond (9 points) and Shane Barr (7), the Lightning climbed all the way back. Following a three-point play by Green with three minutes left, Long Reach had gone back ahead, 48-47, and a minute later the lead was up to three, 51-48, following a foul shot by Allmond.
“I thought the guys played as hard as they possibly could in that fourth quarter and that’s what allowed us to chip away and chip away and eventually retake the lead,” Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. said. “Brian had the hot hand and we did a good job of finding him, but we also got big plays from a number of other guys too.”
Centennial didn’t panic and instead buckled down on defense. Over the final 90 seconds, the Eagles held Long Reach without a point and did just enough offensively to retake the lead one last time.
“Whenever a team is starting to make a run, like they were tonight, we know to refocus on our defense and make sure our principles are right so we can make stops the next time down,” Tinuoye said.
Ringgold hit a jumper and Chad Strothers hit a foul shot to tie the game. Then, with Long Reach attempting to hold for the last shot, the Eagles made one more stop to set up Tinuoye’s fast break that ended with him on the foul line.
“There were some poor decisions in that last minute that cost us, but the effort was definitely there,” said Moraz, whose team saw their six-game winning streak come to an end. “As tough as this loss is, I’d much rather take a loss like this now than in the first or second round of the playoffs in a couple weeks.
“There’s still time for us to regroup and learn from our mistakes.”
With just one game left in the regular season, the win was particularly important for a Centennial team that is trying to pick up some momentum before the playoffs start.
“This was a big one for us because we weren’t playing particularly well coming in. So to play and beat a team that’s been playing as well as anyone in the county the last few weeks, that was tremendous for us,” Hollwedel said.