NILES — Niles junior Chris Brown had seen this unfold before. So, he and his teammates flipped the script.
After Portage Northern’s Cam French tied the game with a 3-point shot, Brown took the inbounds pass, drove the length of the floor and converted a lay-up with :07 left to lift Niles to a 54-52 victory in a first-round Class A district basketball game Monday.
The Vikings had to sweat out a final shot by the Huskies, but perhaps it was fitting it went awry.
“So many times this year, when an opponent needed a 3, they’d hit it,” Niles coach Todd Pawielski said of his 6-15 squad. “I saw that last shot and it was right in the center. Fortunately, it drifted.”
The victory gives the Vikings a semifinal date Wednesday with eighth-ranked Kalamazoo Central at 7 p.m. St. Joseph, which topped Mattawan, 57-39, in Monday’s first game, will meet Portage Central at 5:30 p.m.
The final shot came during a frantic sequence in which Northern (9-12) took advantage of a Niles turnover before French canned a 3 to tie the game at 52. In the previous meeting on Feb. 3, French hit a 3-pointer late in the game to give the Huskies a 45-43 win.
This time, Brown took charge.
“All I could really think was ‘Not again,’” said Brown, who was nursing a cut lip he suffered on the play. “Last time, he did the same thing and I made a mistake that cost us. I didn’t want to let the team down again. I saw no one was in front of me, so I went for it. It felt too good when it went in.”
“Chris is good in transition,” Pawielski said, “so, if it’s under 10 (seconds), we get it and go. We were going to settle for whatever shot we got and trust the kids to make it work.”
The contest was a seesaw affair throughout, with eight lead changes and seven ties. Neither team held more than a five-point lead at any point.
Niles trailed, 41-36, late in the third quarter before going on a 12-2 run,
capped by a Brown follow-up, for a 48-43 lead with 4:15 left.
“We started pressing more,” Pawielski explained. “We were saving that for later in the game, trying to hit a home run with it. Tre Gray was great defensively for us and that was a big part of our success there.”
Niles still led, 52-47, after two free throws by Alex Harpenau with 1:55 remaining. Northern fought back as Devin Marshall drove the baseline and converted a tear-drop to pull the Huskies within 52-49. After each team used a timeout, Niles turned it over on its inbound pass, which led to French’s tying shot.
“There was no doubt French’s shot was dead center,” Pawielski said. “We tried to take a foul there, but couldn’t get on the ball. I was thinking it was deja vu all over again: Goofy turnovers, the opponent makes a dagger of a 3 … Fortunately, we had just enough time.”
Brown, Gray and Harpenau each had 12 points for the Vikings, who were playing without leading scorer Robert Brown, who suffered a concussion in last week’s win over Buchanan.
Duane Jackson had 16 points and 10 rebounds for Northern, while Marshall chipped in with 12 points.
NORTHERN (52): Devin Marshall 12; Parker Simon 8; Jason Erhardt 2; Duane Jackson 16; Kareem Williams 5; Cameron French 9. TOTALS: 21 4-7 52.
NILES (54): Chris Brown 12; Dawson Clemens 4; Austin Brookins 0; Bryce Lake 0; Jacob Hamm 3; Alex Harpenau 12; Keegan Neumann 2; Tre Gray 12; Austin Curran 9. TOTALS: 22 6-8 54.
Northern 12 25 41 52
Niles 11 22 39 54