Coast to coast in the Cats Den.
Northwest Whitfield senior O’Shea Hill stole a pass and dribbled down the court for the game-winning layup in a 66-64 Sub-region 7B-4A victory Tuesday night at rival Dalton.
Alex Bautista’s layup for the Catamounts (15-6, 5-3) tied the game at 64-all with 41.1 seconds left, and Bruins point guard Kaleb King then slipped and fell with the ball, his left leg landing out of bounds, as Northwest (17-3, 7-0) turned the ball over to Dalton with 30 seconds left.
The Cats called timeout with 12.4 seconds to play. After the inbounds pass, Dalton tried getting the ball to Rico Mears on the high post.
“We hadn’t thrown our trap at them all night,” Northwest coach Ryan Richards said of Hill’s steal. “It was just a gamble. We were either going to win or lose right there.”
That’s when Hill stepped in front of the pass and had a clear path to the basket. The worst thing he could do was miss the layup, but the ball rattled in with 1.2 seconds to play.
“I was trying to draw a foul,” Hill said. “The next thing was I didn’t want them to throw the ball down the court and score a 3-pointer.”
Coming out of a timeout, Dalton turned the ball over on a desperation pass that went out of bounds without anyone touching it. Northwest successfully inbounded the ball to Hill — who led with 23 points and 15 rebounds — and celebrated a regular season sweep of the rival Cats as the clock expired.
“We thought it was going to be whoever had the ball last (would win),” Dalton coach Mike Duffie said. “We had it, and we gave it away. We wanted to try to get it to Rico in the high post. He’d either score, flip (outside) or dump (down low). We had all the options against the zone. We just didn’t execute the pass. Then we didn’t execute the foul. As soon as (Hill) caught the ball, we should’ve fouled him.”
The Bruins won the first meeting 63-57 on Jan. 11, a game in which they never trailed. In the rematch, the teams swapped the lead throughout. Dalton led 17-13 at the end of the opening period, and Northwest took a 23-22 lead halfway through the second quarter. The Cats led 35-33 at halftime and took a 44-37 third-quarter lead, the biggest of the game on either side.
The Bruins went on an 11-1 run thanks to Caleb Storey’s three 3-pointers in the third period. The game was tied at 54 entering the final quarter and neither team led by more than two in the fourth.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Duffie said. “Two very similar teams.”
Northwest moves one win and one Heritage-Catoosa loss from a sub-region title. The Cats and Bruins could face again in the Region 7 tournament just two weeks away and hosted by Dalton.
“I was talking with coach Duffie. We think we’ll see each other again possibly,” Richards said. “There’s no guarantee. It’s hard to beat anybody three times, especially back on their home court.”
Rucker had 15 points and seven rebounds to lead the Cats, while Bautista chipped in 15 points and Mears added 13.
Northwest had 14 steals — Hill made five — and Tanner Bailey added 12 points.
The Bruins finished 10-for-18 on free throws, while the Cats went 4-for-6.