COLUMBIA — The final three Northwestern possessions resulted in the Trojans going to the free-throw line after the game was tied at 55 within the final one minute, 30 seconds of Wednesday’s Class AAAA playoff opener against Spring Valley.
The Trojans converted only 2-of-6 attempts, while Spring Valley went 3-of-4 down the stretch.
That told the story of the contest, where Northwestern’s shooting woes from the charity stripe led to a 60-57 loss at the Spring Valley gymnasium in Columbia.
Northwestern, which finished with a 12-13 record, shot less than 50 percent with 15-of-31 in free-throw shooting, while the Vikings were much more efficient, converting 16-of-20.
“It was free throws and their offensive rebounding,” an emotionally exhausted Northwestern coach Mike Gossett said. “They were more aggressive on the glass and we were not.
“They also got their hands on more loose balls. So that game boiled down to us not being aggressive enough. We knew that this would be a physical game.
“And in a game of this magnitude, you have to be able to keep them off the glass, and you cannot turn the ball over.”
Northwestern controlled the pace in the early stages. With an active zone defense causing Viking shooting woes, the Trojans were able to get out in transition. Guards LaThomas Long, Clinzo Ross, and Mustafa Love sparked an 11-0 run to end the first quarter with a 17-9 lead.
“Northwestern is long and athletic, and they killed us on the inside,” Spring Valley coach Perry Dozier Sr. said. “We could not score early but used our defense to get back into the game.”
Spring Valley’s defensive strategy changed to a full-court zone trapping defense. That led to several Trojan turnovers and allowed the Vikings to generate offensive momentum. Forward Dominique Taylor scored six straight points with two lay-ups and foul shots to tie the contest at 23.
With the Vikings ahead by two, 27-25, at the half, the teams traded leads five times before Perry Dozier Jr. drained a 3-pointer for a 39-38 Spring Valley edge.
Taylor connected with a 3-pointer for a 45-40 Viking lead, but Northwestern forward Manzi Hill swished two free throws to close the deficit to three heading into the final quarter.
The Trojans took the lead, 51-49, when Rontavious McClure tipped in a missed shot and LaThomas Long slashed through the defense for a lay-in. Spring Valley, however, regained control when Jalon Williams sank a jumper in the lane, and Taylor picked up a loose ball and soared for an uncontested slam dunk with 3:13 remaining.
Northwestern regrouped to tie the score at 55 when Love drove the baseline for a layup with 1:52 on the clock. The Trojans had possession with a chance to go ahead, but Ross was whistled for a charging foul at the 1:28 mark.
The Vikings milked the clock and went ahead by two when Jabari Johnson converted a mid-range jumper with 36 seconds remaining. Northwestern went back on the attack and Long was fouled, but converted 1-of-2 free throws.
Trailing by one, the Trojans fouled Dozier with 20 seconds remaining. He converted 1-of-2 for a 58-56 Viking lead. Northwestern, however, did not panic and had a good look, but Hill was fouled with 9.7 seconds left. He missed the first, but made the second to cut the deficit to one, 58-57.
Dozier was immediately fouled and netted both attempts. With no timeouts remaining, Northwestern hustled down court and attempt a 3-pointer, which fell off the mark and into the hands of a Viking defender as time expired.
“Hats off to our seniors; they left it all on the line, and we wish them well in the future,” Gossett added. “We got off to a slow start to the season and battled through adversity” to earn a third-seed in Region 3-AAAA and playoff berth.
Spring Valley 60, Northwestern 57
Northwestern — Rontavious McClure 8, Mason Rudolph 6, LaThomas Long 13, Mustafia Love 16, Clenzo Ross 8, Manzi Hill 6.
Spring Valley — Dominique Taylor 22, Perry Dozier Jr. 23, Jamil Taborn 4, Jordan Bruner 1, Jabari Johnson 8, Jalon Williams 2.
3-pointers — Northwestern 0, Spring Valley 3 (Dozier 2, Taylor 1).
Team fouls — Northwestern 21, Spring Valley 23.
Fouled out — Taborn, Johnson (SV).
Records: Northwestern 12-14; Spring Valley 17-8.