One player had a big black bandage wound around his head, covering seven staples that resulted from a collision with a teammate’s teeth earlier in the week. The player on the other end of the collision had been to the dentist for repairs and was now playing with a mouthguard. One team – Eastview -- was unbeaten and the other –Lakeville North -- came in with one loss … to Eastview a month earlier. The gym was packed, the music was cranking and a cold Diet Coke was waiting for me at the scorer’s table (even though the concession stand sells Diet Pepsi).
In other words, Friday was a perfect night for basketball.
“You want to be in close games, you want to be in an atmosphere like this as much as you can,” Eastview coach Mark Gerber said.
This was a South Suburban Conference boys game with plenty of implications as the season sprints toward the playoffs. Would Eastview remain unbeaten and hang on to the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A? Would third-ranked North avenge a six-point loss to the Lightning on Jan. 10 in Lakeville? And no matter the outcome, would the two teams meet for a third time in the state tournament?
“They’re a big rival and our kids know they’re the best,” said North coach John Oxton. “When you’re number one, everybody wants to try to beat them.”
The final score was Lakeville North 57, Eastview 56. But how we got from that cold pregame Diet Coke to the final buzzer is quite a story. The soft drink came courtesy of Eastview athletic director Matt Percival, who knows how to butter up a visiting scribe. And the outcome of the game wasn’t decided until Eastview’s Joey King missed a three-point shot at the horn.
King was the guy with the bandaged head. He and fellow senior Jordan Bolger knocked noggins on Tuesday at Burnsville, with both needing treatment. King finished with a game-high 18 points, but the fact that he scored two points in the game’s final 14 minutes was important.
Eastview led by six early but North controlled most of the first half, leading by 11 points when Brett Rasmussen hit a three-point basket with 2:33 left in the half. The Panthers led 33-24 at the break, but King made noise pretty quickly in the second half.
The 6-foot-9 forward who has signed a Division I letter of intent with Drake drained an NBA three-pointer to cut North’s lead to four points with 15:50 to play, then grabbed an alley-oop pass from Darin Haugh and threw down a dunk with 14:12 left; North led by two. Haugh scored in the lane to tie it at 35 soon after, but King went to the bench with four fouls at the 11:38 mark.
Curtains for Eastview, right? Wrong. With their top scorer on the pine, the Lightning opened a six-point lead when sophomore Mark Dwyer hit a three. King returned at the 4:25 mark, made two free throws 16 seconds later and Eastview was in front 51-46 as the momentum continued swinging.
North, however, won the battle after that, outscoring Eastview 11-5. The Lightning led 56-51 with 1:38 left, but the Panthers made some devilishly outstanding plays: Ryan Saarela drove through the tall timber, spun and put up a shot that defied the laws of physics and banked in off the glass … Tyler Flack, on a similar play, drove the lane and put up a shortie that rolled around the rim, thought about it, then decided that, yes, it would drop through after all.
That put North ahead 57-56 with 2.3 seconds on the clock. The officials wanted to re-set the timer to 2.7 seconds, but the personnel at the table had some trouble doing so. The problem was solved – and the delay was ended – when Gerber leaned over the table, punched a few buttons, pulled a few switches and said the magic word. Two point seven seconds it was.
Eastview had that much time to throw a length-of-the-court pass, get off a shot, win the game, holler and celebrate. Ben Oberfeld stood with the ball in his hands, and this was an important point. Oberfeld also is 6-9, so everybody in the gym knew that Eastview Option Number One was a long pass from Oberfeld to King, who was perched 70 feet away, ready to leap, grab, turn and shoot.
He leaped, he grabbed, he turned and he shot. And he missed. Bang zoom, Lakeville North wins it.
“They had Oberfeld passing it in,” Oxton said. “So we put our two big guys on Joey and said, ‘That’s where it’s going.’ And he still caught it. That’s not real great but it worked.
“Every time we play them it’s the exact same game every time; physical, getting after it. And they’re good, they’re really good. But we’re pretty good, too. That was fun.”
Gerber did not use the word “fun” during our postgame visit. Understandably, he was not pleased.
“We have experienced guys,” he said. “That’s the troubling part; you have a six-point lead with two minutes to go and we didn’t make the right plays at the end. I never would have guessed our guys would make the plays that they made at the end. That’s not them. They know exactly how to win and they didn’t make the right plays. We took the wrong shots, we dribbled into traps; stuff that these guys aren’t accustomed to doing, so I was shocked.
“But one game isn’t going to define our season at all. Our goals are set much more higher. There’s a lot to learn, there’s a lot more positive to take out of it than negative. It’s a game in February.”
Yes, it was a game in February. “Only” a game in February, some might say.
But it sure was fun.
--To see a photo gallery from the game, as well as video of the final play, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 259
*Miles John has driven: 5,837
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn