Highlanders win thriller to advance to league title game
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Incline boys’ basketball team will have an opportunity to capture a fourth consecutive Northern League title after dispatching rivals North Tahoe in Friday’s regional semifinals.
The Highlanders advanced to the championship game in thrilling fashion, topping the Lakers 37-35 on a game-winning floater with eight seconds remaining.
“We shot the ball the worst we’ve shot it all season,” said Incline Head Coach Tim Kelly. “We still found a way to hold them to 35 points and win the game … they gave us a run.”
Both teams struggled shooting the ball from the outset, and it would be drives to the basket that gave Incline an early 11-8 advantage after the first quarter.
North Tahoe gained their first lead of the night with a little more than a minute left in the half when sophomore guard Levi Boyd knocked down a 3-pointer. Senior Daniel Joslin then drained another shot from downtown as part of a North Tahoe 10-0 run to end the quarter, giving the Lakers a 22-16 lead going into halftime.
“We always talk about the most important time of the basketball game is the first four minutes of the half,” said Kelly on his message to the team at halftime. “”So we said, ‘Just win the first four minutes.’”
North Tahoe senior Jared Hunt looked to silence that message by opening the third quarter with a 3-pointer, giving the Lakers a nine-point lead. Incline, however, would begin chipping away as North Tahoe missed a number of shots at the rim. A pair of 3-pointers and stingy defense by the Highlanders eventually led to a one-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.
A little more than a minute into the quarter, Incline took the lead for the first time since late in first half, gaining a 32-30 advantage on a pair of free throws by senior James Demarais. North Tahoe’s Boyd, who led the team with 11 points, put the Lakers back up 35-32 with a 3-pointer. Incline then pulled even with two minutes left in the game, tying the game at 35-35 on a free throw by senior Luc Casini.
With the a little more than a minute remaining and the game tied, the Lakers took possession of the ball, but turned it over after the Highlanders forced a jump ball.
Coming out of a timeout, Kelly said he drew up a play for Casini, but “It didn’t work. We got kind of jumbled up.”
A couple passes later the Highlanders got a decent look off a drive to the basket but the attempt was too strong and off the backboard. The ball would be tipped out and find the hands of Demarais, who rattled in a game-winning floater with eight seconds left.
“It was just a wild play,” said Demarais. “It came off the rim and fell in my hands and I just hit a floater. Honestly, I thought it was a little short but it went in and that was the story, that was game.”
The Lakers would have a final possession and managed to get the ball up the court for a contested 3-pointer from the corner, but the shot just missed the mark.
“We got the win,” said Demarais, who finished the game with 10 points. “We’re going to Vegas baby.”
Incline’s leading scorer, Casini, finished the game with 12 points. The senior missed the entire regular season with a broken hand and returned to the team in time for a postseason run.
“It means so much,” said Casini on the win. “I’m so proud of my boys. James Demarais hit that game-winning shot. That means everything to me.”
Sophomore Tommy Williams, the team’s leading scorer at 22 points per game and league MVP, battled through illness to play, according to Kelly. Williams finished the game with six points. Senior Marcos Resendiz scored four points, senior Sam Hillman scored three points, and junior Bradley Bodel added two points.
Incline will face West Wendover for the league championship today at 12:45 at Incline High School. The teams split their two regular season meetings.
“They’re a good team,” said Demarais. “Their point guard is really good. We have a lot of respect for them. We’ve got to come in tomorrow ready to go.”
By reaching the league championship game Incline and West Wendover earned berths into the four-team Class 2A state tournament scheduled for Feb. 24-25 in Las Vegas.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tribune.
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