Northwestern coach Mike Gossett did not hesitate to label 6-foot-5 center Rontavious McClure as the key to his team's engine following the Trojans' hard-fought 44-42 road victory over York on Tuesday.
McClure lived up to that label after sinking what proved to be the game-winning jumper with 12 seconds remaining. Following a York time out, McClure came up with a crucial blocked shot on York's final possession to preserve the victory.
"We expect that out of him," Gossett said. "This is his team. We are a young basketball team with five sophomores and freshmen in the line-up; but (McClure) has been playing three years and he is a seasoned junior.
"This is his team and he is going to put the team on his shoulders. And, he is still getting into basketball shape (after the football team ended its season just three weeks ago)."
The see-saw affair which featured both teams trading leads in the second half eventually was deadlocked at 37-37 with 4:51 remaining. After a fast-paced exchange of offensive trips resulted in turnovers, Northwestern signaled timeout to slow the pace.
The result was McClure getting fouled on an interior shot attempt. He sank both for a 39-37 Trojans advantage. After forcing a Cougars turnover, Northwestern began to squeeze the clock before Jhantae McMillian grabbed a missed shot and scored on an offensive put-back.
Cougars guard Daurice Simpson drove the lane and netted a jumper while being fouled. He missed the free throw, and York was down by two, 41-39. Trojans guard Manzi Hill later connected on 1 of 2 foul shots for a 42-39 lead at the 1:37 mark.
Following a Cougars miss, Northwestern tried to milk the clock, but a five-second violation near midcourt gave possession back to York with 37 seconds remaining.
York responded with Markell Castle picking up a loose ball beyond the 3-point arc and nailing a jumper to tie the score, 42-42, with 23.5 seconds left.
Following a timeout, Northwestern got the ball into the hands of McClure. With the defender gambling for the steal, he dribbled into the lane and pulled up for the open jumper. The ball swished the nets for a two-point Trojans lead.
York dribbled down and whistled timeout with 4.9 seconds left. A jumper from Deshawn Adams was blocked by McClure. York did pick up the loose ball and had a shot to tie; however, the offensive rebound bounced off the rim as time expired.
"I just could not let us lose," McClure said. "The shot was there and I just took it."
York coach Ali Patton said that the loss was disappointing.
"We could have had this one," he said with a smile. "But they made the plays in the end."
Northwestern 44, York 42
Northwestern -- Keith Bell 9, Jhante McMillian 7, Keenan Orr 4, Rontavious McClure 9, Mustafa Love 3, Mason Rudolph 5, Manzi Hill 6.
York -- Markell Castle 5, Daurice Simpson 13, Luke Lancaster 1, Lamih Yanseneh 2, Reggie McClain 6, Ty Currence 4, Deshawn Adams 6, Kaiyon Schrader 5.
3-pointers -- Northwestern 2 (McMillian 1, Bell 1), York 3 (Castle 1, Simpson 1, Schrader 1). Team fouls -- Northwestern 13, York 17. Fouled out -- None.
Records: Northwestern 5-1; York 2-3.