PLEASANT HILL — A seven-point Newton High Cardinal lead dissolved in two minutes Monday as Class 3A No. 7 Chariton’s Chargers rallied in the fourth quarter. The Chargers tied the game at 49-all with 5:10 remaining to play.
With the 3A Substate 6 title and a berth in the 2016 Class 3A state tournament on the line, the Cardinals were locked in battle with the Chargers right to the final buzzer. In a packed full Southeast Polk High gym with dueling student sections at each end, the teams fought for the victory.
“We got beat by a team which did some things down the stretch better than us,” Newton head coach Bill Liley said after the Cardinals fell short of their goal — a trip to the state — by a 55-53 decision.
In the final five minutes, Newton had the lead twice. Senior Joseph Banfield sank two free throws to give the Cardinals a 51-49 advantage, but Chariton senior T. J. Hockenson tied it back up with a basket.
Junior Connor Gholson, who had been saddled with foul trouble most of the game, handed the lead back, 53-51, to Newton at the 2:17 mark. Hockenson hit one of two free throws and Newton pulled the defensive rebound.
The Cardinals had a 53-52 lead and the basketball. They began working the ball and running the clock.
“We were doing what we do. Our deal all season has been to possess the basketball and force teams to come out and get us,” Liley said. “We threw the ball away this time, and give Chariton credit for being aggressive enough to jump the passing lanes.”
It was Hockenson, who took charge of the ball and went in for the layup. He was fouled on the play but again missed the free throw. Newton had the ball and trailed by one point with 1:10 left.
The Cardinals trailed in the game for the first time since there were three minutes left in the first quarter. Coming out of a timeout, the Cardinals went to work again.
Gholson drove toward the lane from the side. He was called for a charging foul, which was his fifth. Gholson left the contest with 22 points with 53.3 seconds remaining. He drained six of the Cardinals’ nine 3-point field goals in the game.
Newton’s defensive pressure created a Charger turnover at the 46.5-second mark. Still down by one, the Cardinals put the ball in the hands of sophomore point guard Garrett Sturtz. Sturtz made a drive along the baseline, but was assessed a charging foul.
The Cardinals fouled Chariton junior Lim Chuol with 21 seconds left, and he sank one of two attempts to put the Chargers up 55-53. The Chargers put the pressure on and caused a turnover by the Cardinals with four seconds left.
Hockenson went to the free-throw line with 1.9 seconds on the clock. He missed both foul shots, but the damage was done.
“I’m not sure if I have been prouder of a team and how they played all season, especially the last three games. These guys have never been this far and played in an atmosphere like this until the district championship game Saturday,” Liley said.
“They went out and executed at this level for 3 1/2 quarters tonight. For these guys, I really wished we could have finished it.”
Down 6-4 with 3:21 left in the first quarter, Newton took control of the game. Gholson triggered things with his first 3-pointer of the night. Sturtz scored a basket followed by another Gholson trey. The Cardinals were up 17-13 at the end of the period.
Gholson picked up his second personal foul and went to the Newton bench at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter as Newton led 21-15. Chariton trimmed it down to a two-point game, but enter Newton junior Trey Vanderlaan.
Vanderlaan netted back-to-back threes to keep the Cardinals in front — the second one at the 2:46 mark for a 27-23 lead. When Chariton’s Daric Laing hit a 3-pointer to cut the margin to one point, Banfield answered for Newton.
Up 29-28, Newton worked for the final shot of the first half. Senior guard Jwan Roush hit a baseline jumper with four seconds on the clock, lifting Newton to a 31-28 lead at the break.
Newton had a true outside-inside game going in the third quarter. Banfield opened the period with a basket inside. Sturtz and Gholson provided the firepower from outside, delivering four 3-pointers. After Gholson’s third consecutive trey of the period, Banfield stole the ball and scored on a layup to make it 47-38.
The Cardinals were up 47-39 going into the final eight minutes of play. Hockenson, who finished with 23 points, and Banfield traded baskets in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
Laing hit two free throws and a trey followed by a bucket from Hockenson to tie the game up at 49-49. Then came the rush to the end.
Looking at the game statistics, two jump out. Newton was whistled for 22 fouls to Chariton’s eight. The Chargers cashed in on 10-of-21 foul shots to Newton’s 4-of-4.
“The charging fouls at the end and the turnovers are things you have to play through. We still had the ball and opportunities. We didn’t take advantage of them,” Liley said. “A team with a short memory which can execute in the face of adversity is the team that wins.”
Newton shot 45 percent, 20-of-44, from the field and Chariton connected on 21-of-41 for 52.5 percent. The Chargers had a 24-20 rebounding edge on the Cardinals.
Banfield scored 12 points, hitting all four of Newton’s free throws, and had six rebounds. Sturtz had six rebounds and four assists. Senior Jake Bennett handed out five assists and Roush had two steals.
Chuol finished with 15 points and Laing had 14 points for Chariton (23-1).
Newton’s 15-9 record was the best since 1985 when Newton went 16-5. The last winning record for a Cardinal team was 12-11 in 2014. Newton was one win away from taking a team back to a state tournament for the first time since 1992.
“This has been a really fun experience coaching these kids,” Liley said of his first season as Newton head coach. “They were a team and played together all season. They were coachable.
“These kids executed a system, which is a college level one on both the offensive and defensive ends, at a high level. Not many high school kids can do that. We maximized and overachieved based on what we had this year.”
Liley pointed out the Cardinals had beat teams with 6-foot-8-inch centers when their tallest player is 6-foot-4-inch junior Morgan Maher. He said they had beat teams with guards who score 20 points a game and teams with a lot more playoff experience than Newton.
“I’m so proud of what our kids accomplished this season. They have worked hard from the time I got here in July right to the end,” Liley said. “They bought into what we wanted and accomplished things no one in Newton thought they were going to be capable of doing.”
Newton had four seniors play their final game for the Cardinals — Roush, Bennett, Banfield and Drew Stout. Liley said the senior leadership this season was amazing.
“And what fan support we’ve had all season. Our student section is awesome. The way they’ve supported us was unbelievable,” Liley said. “There are a lot of schools wishing they had a student section like Newton’s.”
Newton (FG/3-pt): Sturtz 3/1-0-3-9, Roush 2-0-5-4, Bennett 0-0-3-0, Banfield 4-4-2-12, Gholson 2/6-0-5-22, Vanderlaan 0/2-0-0-6, Maher 0-0-4-0. TOTALS: 11/9-4-22-53.
Chariton (FG/3-pt); Laing 2/2-4-2-14, Cain 0/1-0-1-3, Chuol 7-1-3-15, Hockenson 9-5-2-23. TOTALS: 18/3-10-8-55.
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