Wood in right place for Naperville Central
Standing wide of the lane on the left side of the court, Naperville Central's Michael Wood was the farthest player from the ball when Matt Murphy took a pass from Cam Dougherty and attempted a game-winning 3-pointer from the right corner.
But when Murphy's shot sailed over the rim, Wood was in the perfect spot, grabbing the ball and laying it in at the buzzer to give the Redhawks a 50-49 DuPage Valley Conference win over visiting Neuqua Valley.
"Cam said as long as we got a shot we'd have a chance," Wood said. "I saw Murph put it up, it was long and no one boxed me out, so I just caught it and laid it in."
"We were just trying to spread the floor and have Cam bring it up and either shoot it or find someone open," said Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer. "Murph was open and that's his shot; I thought it was going in, it looked good, but Mike was in the right spot and tipped it in."
Neuqua coach Todd Sutton had watched Dougherty attack the rim all night on the way to a game-high 21 points, so he wasn't surprised when the final play started with the ball in his hands.
"He did it all night long, it was a good move," he said. "He's a very unselfish player and that's what good players are, very unselfish."
Wood's winner came after John Poulakidas had given the Wildcats (21-7, 3-5) a 49-48 lead with 10 seconds to play. He needed to do it on an impromptu fullcourt drive as he outraced Naperville Central's Kyle Baskin to a loose ball in the backcourt, then drove the length of the floor to lay it in. But Wood took the hero's mantle with his only basket of the night.
Both teams tried to assert their dominance early in the game as Naperville Central (18-8, 5-3) raced to a 12-4 lead behind 7 points from Dougherty. Neuqua responded with an 11-3 run with 6 points from Connor Davis to knot the game at 15-15 midway through the second quarter.
Evidence that the game would be nip and tuck the rest of the evening came when, with the Wildcats holding an 18-17 lead, the teams traded the advantage on seven consecutive possessions before Neuqua took a 28-24 halftime edge on a Poulakidas 3-pointer and Davis' two free throws with no time left on the second-quarter clock.
The Wildcats stretched their lead to as much as 40-33 on another Poulakidas 3 with 90 seconds left in the third quarter, but they managed just two baskets over the next six-plus minutes as Naperville Central forged ahead 47-44 behind 8 points from Dougherty.
Davis' 3-pointer tied the game with a minute to play before Dougherty split a pair of free throws to set up the final frantic seconds.
"We just played tight, hard-nosed man defense," Kramer said. "We knew who their shooters were, and John hit some big shots and Davis hit a big one, but we took away as much as we could."
"Every game we play goes to the last possession, that's how it works," Sutton said.