Memorable win for Grangers
Published 9:26 pm Wednesday, November 20, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
On the surface, it wasn’t a game with much on the line.
It was an early-season game between teams who are not only in different regions, but in separate classifications.
Yet the showdown between the LaGrange Grangers and Whitewater Wildcats on Tuesday night didn’t have the vibe of a game with low stakes.
It had the feel of a February tournament game between teams fighting to keep their seasons alive.
With an as-always enthusiastic student section offering its boisterous support, LaGrange (2-0) outlasted Whitewater 72-67 in a double-overtime thriller.
The game had it all, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Whitewater at the close of regulation that forced overtime.
In the end, spurred on by the home fans, the Grangers pulled away in the waning moments of double overtime to remain unbeaten early in the season.
Kobe Jones, a sophomore guard who led the Grangers with 20 points, felt the presence of the fans, particularly the dozens of students in attendance clad in college or pro jerseys, helped pushed the home team over the edge.
“It amazes me,” Jones said of the crowd support. “It just boosts you. You have more confidence at home.”
Jones was one of the heroes for the Grangers, finishing with 20 points, including eight points during the decisive second overtime.
Jones had a chance to end the suspense in the final seconds of regulation, but he missed a free throw that kept it a three-point game.
Whitewater’s Omar Ndengey then made a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.
“It would have been a tough loss,” Jones said. “Everybody would have been heart-broken if we couldn’t have pulled it off.”
In the first overtime, senior guard D.J. Burks scored four of his team’s five points, and his two free throws gave the Grangers a 62-60 lead with 49 seconds to play.
That’s the way it remained until Whitewater’s Casey Brubaker scored with 10 seconds to tie it.
LaGrange was unable to get a potential game-winning shot away, so it was on to a second overtime.
That’s when Jones, shrugging off the disappointment of what happened at the close of regulation, took over.
With the Grangers trailing by two, Jones scored 10 straight points to help put the game away.
LaGrange was down by two when Jones made a pair of free throws to deadlock the score at 66-66 with 2:10 to play.
Fifty seconds later, Jones knifed through the Whitewater defense and laid the ball in, giving LaGrange a 68-66 lead.
In the final 30 seconds, Jones made four straight free throws to end the suspense.
Finally, with Jones leading the way, LaGrange finished off Whitewater in the second overtime.
“We played them this summer and we split with them, so they’re a formidable ball club,” Veal said. “(Whitewater coach) Matt Martin does a good job with them.”
Jones led the Grangers with 20 points while making 8-of-11 free-throw attempts, and Javon Brown added 15 points.
Nafis Carston had 11 points, including three in the two overtime periods, Earley Sanders and Blake Miles had nine points apiece, and Burks had six points.
Defensively, Veal was proud of the way his team dealt with Ndengey, a 6-foot-3 senior with explosive scoring ability.
Ndengey was limited to 13 points, with eight of those points coming in the fourth quarter, and he made the dramatic 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the game into overtime.
“We had some different post players battle No. 23,” Veal said. “He’s probably a mid-major player.”
It wasn’t a flawless performance, but the Grangers overcome plenty of adversity, including the potentially deflating 3-pointer at the buzzer, to get a big home win and improve to 2-0.
“There were so many things that went wrong, but I’m proud of the outcome,” Veal said. “That’s one of the better non-region opponents we’ll play.”