BY JIM METCALFE
Times Bulletin Correspondent
LIMA - Elida junior Dakota Mathias had beaten Van Wert with a last-second shot Jan. 11 in the regular season. It wasn't quite the same scenario Wednesday night in the Division II sectional at Lima Senior but it was just as clutch.His free throw with 1.1 seconds left in the second overtime pushed the Bulldogs to a 65-64 victory over the Cougars.
"I can honestly say that this was not one of Dakota's best games and he put in 21 points, 14 assists and however many rebounds (7). That is what we've come to expect from him. His numbers don't surprise me," Elida coach Denny Thompson noted. "It was about a lot of unsung heroes tonight. With the defense they were playing, doubling Dakota and face-guarding Aric (Thompson), we needed someone to step up. It took us a while but because we've seen these kinds of junk defenses all year, we're far better at executing than we were even in mid-January."
The stats were evident on how close this game was. Both teams shot 21-of-48 from the floor (43.8%). Both made eight 3-pointers, the Bulldogs on 20 tries and the Cougars on 21. Both teams grabbed 30 boards.
It literally came down to the free-throw line where Elida downed 15-of-21 for 71.4 percent while the Cougs' 14-of-24 for 58.3 percent.
"That has been an issue all season. We had chances and hit some but not consistently. It cost us, as it has all year," Van Wert mentor Dave Froelich said. "It was a good game and the kids played well, just not well enough. You can only do so much to defend a Mathias. He has such great vision and can beat you without scoring. He sees the floor so well. We tried to make sure someone else beat us and we gave up some open shots."
Tied at 53-53 to start the second overtime, the Bulldogs (15-8) drew first blood as Louis Gray buried a three-ball from the right corner at 3:24 to give them the lead for good. Connor Holliday, who led all scorers with 28 points, hit one of two free throws on the same sequence to get the Cougars within a pair at 56-54. Mathias put in a basket at 3:07 to get Elida a 58-54 edge. The Bulldogs hit six out of eight freebies in the next three-plus minutes, while the Cougars (11-12) kept battling back. Van Wert eventually tied the score at 64 on a triple by Holliday with 35 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs then ran down the clock and, with about five seconds left, Mathias forced a drive to the basket and was fouled with 1.1 seconds left on the clock. Van Wert mentor Dave Froelich called timeout to try to ice him but the junior hit the first of the double-bonus for a one-point lead. Mathias intentionally missed the second, and Van Wert got the rebound, calling timeout with 0.7 ticks left. Michael Smelser threw a three-quarter court pass to senior A.J. Smith, but his 23-foot turnaround at the buzzer was just short.
"We had some guys hit big shots, like Austin and Louis. Marquevious (Wilson) is emerging and maturing," Coach Thompson added. "We simply had to keep moving and finding the open spots. We got an awful lot of layups because of the attention they were paying to Dakota. At times, we weren't coming high enough to give Dakota a pass, so he had some uncharacteristic turnovers. We expected a tough game like this and we survived."
The pace was slow in the first period, with neither team having much success against the other's defense. Van Wert ran constant double teams at Mathias, and Smith was hounded by the Elida defense. When Smith put in a lob on an inbounds pass with 47 seconds left, Van Wert had a 10-9 edge.
The trend continued in the second period. Froelich's defense was doing its best to keep Mathias from shaking loose, while the Elida defenders were doing the same to Smith. Holliday went wild in the first half, draining four treys en route to 14 points, while Austin Allemeier did his best for the Bulldogs with seven points. The game remained close - as it would most of the way - and when Smith hit an NBA-range three-ball as time expired, Van Wert led 24-22.
The third period belonged to Van Wert's Caleb Markward, who scored all eight of his points in the span. That helped the scarlet-and-grey build a 36-29 edge on an off-balance transition layin by Markward with 40 seconds to go.
The fourth period saw Allemeier step up huge for the Bulldogs with three treys and 12 points overall. After Holliday hit a tough shot inside to give Van Wert a 38-29 edge, Allemeier got the rally going with a triple. Marquevious Wilson put Elida in the lead 46-44 at 2:13 on a layin off a feed from Mathias, and he hit one of a pair from the charity stripe to give the Bulldogs a three-point edge.
With Van Wert running down the clock, Joey Hurless drove and converted an old-fashioned three-point play, knotting the game at 47 with just 19.5 ticks left. Both teams had chances for the game-winner in the last seconds, but Mathias missed a 16-footer under duress and Hurless was short on a contested 22-footer at the buzzer.
"They were doing the same to us with A.J. as we were trying to do with Dakota. Connor was very aggressive, and he was a tough matchup for them," Froelich added. "Allemeier had 21 on us in the regular season and he hurt us again. He hit three huge treys in the fourth quarter. We didn't make a play here or there. Mathias gets the call at the end of the second overtime and A.J. didn't get the call at the end of regulation. That's what it came down to. It was a great game but it didn't come out our way."
Mathias drew first blood in the first extra four minutes at 3:20 but Smith countered with two throws at 2:47. Mathias again gave the Bulldogs the lead on a deuce, but Holliday and Nik Wolford each hit a single for the Cougars to tie it at 51. Wilson laid one in from the baseline at 1:17 but Van Wert ran down the clock and got a baseline drive from Holliday at 4.1 ticks to tie the game at 53. Mathias nearly won it with a half-court shot but missed, forcing a second OT.
VAN WERT (64)
Caleb Markward 3-2-8, A.J. Smith 3-5-13, Nathan Stoller 0-0-0, Joey Hurless 1-1-3, Michael Smelser 0-0-0, Kyle Keber 0-0-0, Matt Bidlack 3-1-8, Connor Holliday 10-3-28, Nik Wolford 1-2-4. Totals 13-8-14/24-64.
David Diller 0-0-0, Max Stambaugh 1-0-2, Austin Allemeier 6-4-19, Aric Thompson 0-0-0, Dakota Mathias 6-7-21, Trent Long 1-0-2, Marquevious Wilson 4-1-9. Totals 13-8-15/21-65.
Score by Quarters:
Van Wert 10 14 12 11 (6) (11) - 64
Elida 9 13 7 18 (6) (12) - 65
Three-point goals: Van Wert, Holliday 5, Smith 2, Bidlack; Elida, Allemeier 3, Gray 3. Mathias 2.