Protecting a slim lead is a little easier when you have Jack McDonald around.
McDonald, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, knocked down 5 free throws in the final 42 seconds to help lift Geneva (4-1) to a 71-64 Upstate Eight Conference crossover basketball victory over Bartlett (1-4) Friday night in Geneva.
McDonald finished the night with 16 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds and a pair of steals and was especially effective down the stretch to fight off a valiant Hawks' comeback effort.
"It's unbelievable, isn't it," Vikings coach Scott Hennig said of McDonald. "Keeping the ball in his hands is important. He usually makes pretty good decisions and he's fantastic from the free-throw line. He did a great job."
Already ahead 41-27 at the half, the Vikings expanded their lead to 15 at 47-32 with 6:17 left in the third quarter on Jack Hood's tough catch and shoot layup off a long pass from McDonald.
Hood, a 6-3 senior, came off the bench to lead the Vikings with 18 points. He drained three 3-pointers in the second quarter when Geneva outscored Bartlett 22-13.
"We like to play inside-out," said Hood. "Jack (McDonald) is a great point guard with his dribble penetration and dish out. It's awesome having Mitch (Mascari) as a wing, too. He's another guy who can hit 3-pointers."
Bartlett, led by Tomas Vikonis (19 points), Austin Gates (17 points, 7 steals), Ben Tompson (11 points) and Ben Fisher (9 points, 12 rebounds), used a 12-2 surge to trim a 50-36 deficit to 4 at 52-48 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
"We were a little lax with the ball and they picked up their intensity," said Hennig, victorious in his home debut as head coach. "Fatigue sets in and we kind of relaxed a little bit. I think that sometimes happens with a young team when you get up 15."
Back-to-back layups from McDonald upped the Vikings' lead back to 59-50 before the Hawks answered with 5 straight points, capped by Tompson's 3-point play, to make it 59-55 with 3:11 remaining.
Geneva built a 62-55 lead on sophomore Nate Santos' 3-pointer with 2:33 left only to see Bartlett pull within 3 on two separate occasions -- the first at 64-61 on Gates' 3-pointer with 1:13 left and the latter at 66-63 on Vikonis' pull-up jumper with 33 seconds remaining.
Mascari (13 points, 7 rebounds) sealed the deal with 2 free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining.
"A lot of our problems defensively were on offense as crazy as it might be to say," said Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith. "When you come down and make one or two passes and jack a bad shot or contested shot against a team that big, they're going to get that rebound -- and with a point guard like McDonald, they're going to turn that into a transition basket.
"I thought our kids played great in the second half. When you build yourself a 14-point hump on the road against a team this good, you're asking for trouble."