VANDALIA – 'Just enough …!'
Speaking of the championship game of the 40th Annual Vandalia Holiday Boys Basketball Tournament, played Thursday night between Flora and Pana high schools, Flora Varsity Coach Phil Leib said. “We missed some free-throws down the stretch – but we made enough. We gave up some easy points down the stretch – but we stopped them enough. That was the difference in the game.”
And those few free-throws and stops made proved just enough for one big win for the Wolves, 75-69, over Pana for the 2011 championship, Flora's second in three years, and eighth Vandalia Tourney title overall.
And the Wolves got just enough from Nick Painter, who after scoring just two points in the first half, and hampered by foul trouble in the second, watching much of the half from the bench – still scored eight third quarter points – allowing Flora to take a 51-42 lead into the fourth frame. The 6-foot-6 senior finished with 19 points, and earning all-tourney honors. He also had five rebounds and four assists.
“He (Painter) was just getting into the flow,” Leib said. “The offense was really flowing around him, and he was posting up, getting some touches, some assists, some finishes and it was just great to watch him play. He only had two in the first half, and then 19 for the game, and wasn't out there that much in the second half. He was just huge for us in the second half.”
And the Wolves got just enough from Paul Knapp – with the 6-2 senior getting to the line 10 times in the fourth quarter – and hitting seven free-throws to stave off the Panthers, who closed within four points twice in the final frame – but no closer.
Knapp finished with 26 points in the game, just enough to earn the Wolves point-guard tourney MVP for 2011, and all-tournament honors for a fourth straight time.
“Paul was not only MVP, but the only four-time all-tournament team player ever,” Leib said, “and this tournament has been going on now for 40 years. That is a huge accomplishment.”
For the game, Knapp was 11-of-15 from the line (74 percent), and knocked down a trio of treys and a trio of twos.
“He made some huge shots and carried us when we needed to be carried,” Leib said of Knapp. “He made some great passes to Christian (Taylor) for some threes. And Dexter (Burgess) had some finishing touches for us and played some great defense for us.”
And it may have been more than enough when Ethan Leib turned in a double-double in points and rebounds, totaling 17 points and 11 boards on the night.
“My son, I couldn't be any more proud of him,” Coach Leib said. “He had a double-double. He's a great kid, works extremely hard and I couldn't be more proud of him, even if he wasn't my son.”
Page 2 of 3 - “I didn't get that when I was a sophomore,” Coach Leib joked. “I was down there on the bench, next to coach (Matt) Welch. I got some minutes – but nothing like that.”
Pana led 14-13 after one quarter, and the Panthers edge was 27-26 at halftime. But Flora exploded for 25 third quarter points, and led by nine after three quarters.
And it was just enough of a shot by Christian Taylor as the clock wound down on the third quarter to give the Wolves a positive push into the fourth and final frame.
“If anything, it's that emotional lift,” Coach Leib said. “It's that boost that put us up nine (points). They had just made a little run, and we struggled, and I'm thinking just don't turn it over. Then Ethan makes that pass to Christian and the kids are yelling 'shoot it, shoot it!' and he (Taylor) doesn't even follow through – but it's just like he's flicking water off his fingers, and it goes in and he's jumping up and down like a sixth-grade girl.”
Ethan Leib was down along the baseline on the right-hand side with the final few seconds of the third quarter ticking away, when the sophomore heaved a pass in Taylor's direction. The 6-2 junior made the catch and throw, and the ball swished through the rim at the exact same time the lights along the back board flashed red indicating the end of the quarter, and Flora was up 51-42.
While the last second shot was a two-pointer, Taylor did knock down three threes in the game, and finished with 11 points.
“It was nice to see, but we still had one more quarter to go,” Coach Leib said. “Then, the kids fought hard and extended that lead and got down to crunch time – they (Pana) got it down to four.”
Twice in the final quarter, Pana closed within five, and twice Flora fought off the Panthers.
Then, at 4:42, on Mitchell Byers jumper in the lane, Pana pulled within 57-53. But Burgess scoring just enough his second and only basket of the night. And when Leib tallied at 4:15, the Wolves were back up by eight.
However, at 3:17, off a scramble for the ball deep in the right-hand corner, Pana's Garrett Claxton came up with the loose ball, turned, fired and drained a three-pointer almost all in one motion, and it was a four-point affair one again at 61-57.
But Painter, who re-entered the game at 5:50 of the last quarter, after exiting at 3:44 of the third with four personal fouls, showed he had just enough of what the Wolves needed. First, he knocked down two free-throws. Then, he followed with a drive to the hoop, and later scored off Burgess' assist. And when Knapp, added two free-throws for Flora at 1:30 – the Wolves margin was 10, 69-59.
Page 3 of 3 - Actually, with Painter out, the rest of the Wolves showed just enough, and Flora's lead only dropped from nine points to just seven during that stretch.
“I was proud of our kids for stepping up,” Coach Leib said. “They are not used to not having Nick out there on that floor. And they did a good job with that.”
Pana, however, wouldn't go away – and the Wolves and their fans may have been having flashbacks to last season's Vandalia Tourney finals loss in overtime when Wesclin rallied late, when the Panthers closed the gap to 70-66 on Claxton's two free-throws at :48. Coach Leib admitted it crossed his mind.
“I was (thinking about it) just a little bit, but I knew Paul and Nick were not going to let that happen,” he said.
And they didn't – and doing just enough over the games final 45 seconds – with Knapp knocking down two free-throws, then Painter 1-of-2, and finally Knapp added two more from the line, to secure the win and the championship.
For the game, Flora hit 15-21 free-throws, while Pana was 11-of-15 from the line. Pana hit eight threes in the game, and the Wolves made six from beyond the arch.
Jared McMillen led Pana with 22 points, but the 6-foot-3 senior only scored eight points in the second-half, while Byers added 20, but was limited to just five points in the first half. But neither Panthers' effort was enough to steal away the win from the Wolves.
“McMillen got his and he's a great player,” Coach Leib said. “We kept Byers in check for the most part.”
Of the championship, Coach Leib said. “It's a huge lift, especially confidence-wise. You might think you're 15-1, don't you have enough confidence, but it's the emotional toughness. They showed fortitude tonight in some adverse situations.”
Coach Leib added. “Despite the foul trouble, those kids just hung in there, and hung in there. To go 5-0 here – that's doing something.”
Flora's previous Vandalia titles were in 1983, 1984, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2009.
“It's our second one in three years, but it's also two in 12 years, but we won't talk about that,” Coach Leib joked.
But seriously, the Flora Coach said. “It's great and I've gotten to understand something as a coach – the longer your in this – the rarer it gets. You need to cherish these things and enjoy them, but act like you've been here before. I always admired (former Dallas Cowboy head football coach) Tom Landry because he did that. Hopefully the kids represented Flora well, and represented me well tonight. They did a great job and couldn't be more proud of them.”