Confidence is wonderful thing to have on the basketball court. And the McKinley boys basketball team proved that point with a bend-but-don’t-break 49-42 victory over Catholic High on Tuesday night.
The Panthers (18-8, 5-0) held a double-digit lead in the second and third quarters. But Catholic (16-9, 1-4) cut the McKinley lead to one with 5:48 left.
Even a few missed free throws couldn’t keep the Panthers down. Russell Daniels and Micah Hill each made two free throws during the final 21.7 seconds, giving McKinley the separation it needed to notch a District 5-5A win at home.
“We had to focus on executing at the end,” Daniels said. “We had to knock free throws down and finish the game strong. (Catholic) made it tough, but we had to stay focused.”
Daniels finished with a game-high 17 points. Tyrece Radford and Hill each had nine for the Panhters. Radford also finished with eight rebounds.
Toliver Freeman led Catholic with 16 points, including three 3-pointers that helped the Bears’ rally. Ethan Triegle added nine.
“That’s been the story of our team — that resiliency and togetherness,” McKinley interim coach Marcus Williams said. “They rally around each other just like we as coaches rally around each other and we push on through.”
Williams was pleased with his team’s defense, which held Catholic to 4-of-16 shooting in the final quarter. Freeman’s two free throws cut McKinley’s lead to 38-37 with 5:48 left.
The Bears never took the lead, something Catholic coach Mark Cascio noted.
“(McKinley) is who we thought they were,” Cascio said. “I thought we played extremely hard. Some shots we normally make didn’t fall, and that’s part of it. They won the rebounding battle, which made it tougher. And they’re disciplined.”
The teams took a deliberate approach to the first quarter. Daniels scored six first-quarter points to help McKinley claim a 13-10 lead. The Panthers continued to steadily build on their lead in the second quarter.
A 3-pointer from the left wing by Hill put the home team ahead 21-12 at the 5:26 mark. Two free throws by Marcus Coleman stretched the MHS lead to 10 points, 25-15, with 2:24 left in the half.
Freeman’s 3-pointer from the right side with 7.8 seconds left cut McKinley’s lead to 27-20 at halftime.
Catholic got within two points, at 31-29, with 1:12 remaining in the third quarter on basket by Austin Lachney. McKinley closed out the quarter on a 5-0 run. Daniels’ crossover that led to a free-throw line jumper with 9.6 seconds gave the Panthers a 36-29 lead.
McKinley couldn’t shake Catholic until the final minute.
Freeman cut the lead to one with two free throws at the 5:48 mark and followed his own missed shot to make it 44-42 with 1:06 remaining.
Radford also made a free throw the stretch for the winners.
“It’s all about doing what you have to do to win,” Radford said.