Beaumont Ozen guard Jordan Hunter's four straight free throws in the final 15 seconds held off a furious Nederland rally in the final minute to register a 69-64 win over the Bulldogs before possibly the largest crowd ever in the Dogdome Tuesday.
The win sends the visiting Panthers into a three-way tie for the District 20-4A lead with Nederland and Beaumont Central, each at 10-2.
Hunter, a 5-11 guard headed for the University of New Mexico, poured in 29 points to turn the District 20-4A lead into a logjam.
Ozen should be favored in its final two games and if things go as they look going in, the Panthers should claim a 20-4A co-championship with a 12-2 mark.
So the “game-of-the-year” should take place next Tuesday in Nederland when the now 21-7 and 10-2 ’Dogs host Central at 7:30.
That’s of course, assuming Nederland takes care of business this Friday at Lumberton.
If the ’Dogs win at Lumberton, then a win against Central would propel Brian English’s club into a two-way tie for the league crown at 12-2.
But before Ozen or Nederland had the luxury of looking ahead, Tuesday’s barn-burner was one of the season’s hardest played games.
Nederland’s inability to handle the basketball and Ozen’s clutch free throw shooting at the end of the game were the ultimate keys to the Panthers win.
“You can’t let a team like Ozen get to the free throw line when the game’s on the line,” said a disappointed English following the loss. “Also we just turned the ball over way too much to beat a good team like Ozen.”
While it appeared this contest was going to be over early in the second quarter when Ozen stormed out to a 13-point lead (30-17) with 3:53 before halftime, Nederland fought tooth-and-nail the final four minutes of the half to stay within striking district trailing by 12 at intermission.
The second period will be one the Bulldogs will hopefully be able to erase from their memory in a hurry as they committed turnovers on their first four possessions and five in their first six trips down the court. In the meantime, sharpshooting Hunter drilled three straight 3-pointers off three straight Nederland turnovers.
Actually Nederland’s forgetable second period consisted of nine turnovers, two straight one-and-one free throw opportunities early in the quarter which produced nothing, and managed only 3-of-7 from the floor in the quarter. Nederland’s first points of the second quarter were two Colton Weisbrod free throws (he had 27 points on the night) with 3:39 remaining before half, and the hosts didn’t score a basket until the Tyler Toon connected on a trey at the 2:21 mark.
Outscored by 13 in the second period, the Panthers looked like they were going to close this one out by running out to a 15-point lead (45-30) margin at the 4:47 mark of the third.
But Nederland’s kids were up to the fight and battled their hearts out in the final four minutes using a pair of field goals and two FTs from Weisbrod, two free throw from sophomore Colton English, and two straight conventional 3-point plays by senior Deandre Frank (who had 14) to go into the last quarter behind by just six points (50-44).
In the fourth, Ozen jumped out to a nine-point lead at 60-51. Nederland, behind layups by Frank and Garrett Ary and a putback basket from English, the Dogs made a charge cutting the margin to 62-57 with 1:58 left.
Weisbrod did his part in the final 0:44 scoring three straight layups to trim the margin to three (67-64) with 0:09, but Ozen’s Hunter sealed the deal with his two free throws with 0:08 remaining.
OZEN (24-5, 10-2) 16 23 11 19 -- 69
NEDERLAND (21-7, 10-2) 17 10 17 20 -- 64
OZEN: Jordan Hunter 29, Ryan Haynes 10. NEDERLAND: Colton Weisbrod 27, Deandre Frank 14, Tyler Toon 12