There was no question who was going to get the basketball with the game tied and the clock winding down during the Class 2A Sectional Semifinal Wednesday night at a packed Duster Thomas Gym in Pinckneyville.
Jaris Dalman lobbed a pass over the top of the Panthers’ Sam Simpson to teammate Royce Newman, who scored with five seconds remaining to give Nashville a 47-45 victory.
Pinckneyville was unable to stop Newman all night, as the 6-foot-7 center scored 32 points to help lead the Hornets to Friday night’s Sectional Championship where they will take on Central at 7 p.m.
“I rolled my bad ankle again and I wasn’t able to put a lot of weight on it,” Newman said of the final play. “Jaris made eye contact before the pass and somehow I jumped up and caught the ball and went up for the bucket.”
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Pinckeyville chose to play one-on-one with Newman on the last play to prevent a drive to the basket.
“If we help on him, then they have the opportunity to get to the line because they are going to drive the ball,” said Pinckneyville coach Bob Waggoner. “The reality is they made a perfect pass over our 6-5 player to get him the ball. If it’s one inch lower or three inches higher … they beat us.”
The Panthers originally had the ball for the final shot, but they would throw the ball away with 1:14 left to play to give Nashville a shot at the end.
“We were in the double bonus, so we wanted to get a really high-percentage shot or get to the free throw line,” he said. “Time was running down and I was close to calling another timeout, but Jaris got to the top of the key and we were able to lob over the top to Royce and he powered it in and scored.”
Pinckneyville all but shut down the rest of Nashville’s offense. The rest of the Hornets accounted for only five baskets, with only one of those a 3-pointer.
“Our game plan was to let Newman get what he was going to get and then hold the rest of the guys down,” said Waggoner. “We did a lot of things that you can’t do if you are going to win. Give Nashville credit, they have a nice ball club, but it just leaves a sour taste in your mouth when you should still be playing.”
It was the third meeting of the season for Nashville and Pinckneyville. The teams tied for Mississippi Division title of the rugged Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference by splitting its two games during the regular season. The Panthers whipped Nashville by 25 points in the teams’ last meeting less than a month ago.
“They got the lead and spread us out and really made us look bad,” said Weathers. “I thought there were two or three times tonight that we could have folded, but credit the character of our kids, I thought we got a big basket or turnover every time we needed it.
“I thought we played with great intensity from start to finish and we knew we had to. Pinckneyville is an awfully good ball club.”
Brady Bultman added 10 points for Nashville (21-10). Clayton Houghland paced Pinckneyville (25-7) with 20 points, as Simpson added 10 points.
The Hornets will take on Central on Friday night, a team Nashville lost to 51-48 back in January.
“We know Central pretty well,” said Weathers. “They have great skill and great guard play, they are tough to guard. But hopefully they have the same issues on the other end of the court.”