As Chris Pierro, Nate Majkowski, Nick Riccardi, Kameron Hill and Nate Laude walked off Wheeling's floor Tuesday night, they were all smiles.
And they had plenty of reason to be happy. The Wildcats overcame an 8-point second half deficit and got a game-winning free throw from Majkowski before Maine West's potential game-winning shot glanced off the rim at the buzzer to give Wheeling a 43-42 victory.
"We talk about baby steps every day, and taking steps in the right direction," said Wheeling coach Anthony Como. "I was really proud of them tonight."
Tied at 42-42, Maine West (11-10) missed a jump shot and Majkowski skied for the rebound and got fouled with 13 seconds left.
After missing the first free throw, Majkowski calmly swished the second for a 1-point lead.
"I know my teammates had my back and I just had to focus on that second shot, and it went in," Majkowski said.
As the Warriors raced down court to try to win the game, the Wildcats (5-16) surprised them with a 1-3-1 zone. Confused and unable to get anything going, Maine West took a timeout with two seconds left.
"We tried to show them a different look," Como said. "I knew they had two timeouts and if they burned a timeout, it would take time off the clock."
The Warriors got a decent look at the buzzer, but it was the Wildcats' night.
"For this team to keep moving in the right direction, we needed to win a close game," Como said. "We needed to take that next step beyond tightening up. The other night, we tightened up when the pressure was on and we worked on that the last few days."
Maine West led 25-17 early in the third quarter but Wheeling went on a 20-5 run to take control. Will Anderson and Pierro knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to give Wheeling their first lead at 29-28.
Anderson (9 points) closed out the third quarter with a triple and Pierro (8 points) knocked down another one from long distance to open the fourth for a 37-30 lead.
"We came out in the third quarter and took it to them," Pierro said. "We didn't want to take our foot off the pedal, and that's when we got our lead."
Allante Bates (9 points) led a spirited fourth quarter comeback with his drives to the basket. Tom Kukec's 3-pointer gave the Warriors the lead at 40-38, but Kameron Hill (8 points) scored twice inside to put the Wildcats back in front.
Jamal Sherman had 8 points for Maine West while Riccardi added 9 for Wheeling.
"I thought we did some good things in the first half," said Maine West coach Erik McNeill. "We did a nice job defensively on what they were trying to do. We got careless with the ball. They got some second chance opportunities on their offensive end, and I thought that was the difference."