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By MATT DANIELS
For Rantoul Press
BROADLANDS — Racing down court with the basketball in his hand and two defenders close by, Kyle Williams spotted a flash of black.
The Fisher junior guard thought it was one of his teammates, dressed in the black road uniforms the Bunnies wore during their Jan. 29 nonconference game at Heritage.
Except it wasn’t.
“The ref was cutting to the hoop, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye,” Williams said, “so I threw it.”
Right into the red padding along the baseline of the Hawks’ home gymnasium.
The sequence of events in the final nine seconds of overtime sealed a 56-53 loss for the Bunnies, their fifth straight before Ron Ragle’s squad hosted St. Thomas More on Tuesday night (results unavailable at press time). Fisher returns to Heart of Illinois Conference play at 7 p.m. on Friday at home against Lexington.
Fisher trailed Heritage 55-53 after Heritage sophomore guard Chance Lemmon missed two free throws with 12.7 seconds left, giving Fisher another opportunity to tie or win the game, but the Bunnies (3-19) had to go the length of the floor.
Williams caught the ball near midcourt and just before he reached the 3-point line on the left wing, made his fateful pass that fell harmlessly out of bounds with 5.9 seconds remaining.
“We played hard enough to win,” a dejected Williams said. “Obviously I take the blame for the loss. There was one guy (trailing the play), and I figured if I went, he’d follow.”
Heritage (12-11) increased its lead to 56-53 when senior guard Austin Dickey made his first free throw with 4.7 seconds left, but the Bunnies still had a chance after he missed his second one and they corralled the rebound with 3.2 seconds remaining.
Fisher, however, did not get a shot attempt off after a lengthy pass by senior forward Hans Carmien was not brought in before the buzzer.
While the final 10 seconds provided a sour ending on the night for the Bunnies, those plays made in that time span weren’t the only ones that kept Fisher from celebrating a win.
“We had opportunities,” Ragle said. “We had three plays set up after timeouts that we didn’t execute and they ended up in turnovers. Kind of the story of the way the season has gone. The kids kept battling. They worked hard to get in a position to win.”
A steady first half performance coupled with precision shot-making in the fourth quarter allowed Fisher to enjoy a 40-35 lead with 3:39 left in regulation after Carmien (10 points) drained an 18-foot jumper from the left wing.
But a 3-pointer from Lemmon, — the game’s only triple — four points from senior guard D.J. Robertson and two free throws by senior forward Brandon Richardson (team-high 17 points) capped a 9-2 run by Heritage to give the hosts a 44-42 lead with 40.2 seconds left.
Senior forward Tate Estes kept Fisher’s hopes alive when he grabbed an offensive rebound — one of his game-high eight on the evening — after a missed free throw by junior guard Brody Farrar and put the ball in the hands of sophomore Grant Pointer.
The crafty left-handed guard who scored a game-high 18 points wiggled through Heritage’s defense and sank a running 12-foot floater with 17 seconds left that tied the game at 44.
“We changed some things and went to a little more of a spread (offense),” Ragle said. “We’ve just put it in, which I think if we continue to work on it, it’ll open some things up for us because I think Kyle and Grant can both get to the basket. When we relaxed, we actually got a couple nice looks out of it when we spread the floor and did it the right way.”
Carmien sent the game to overtime when he blocked a 15-foot jump shot by Heritage senior John Taylor on the left wing with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Heritage led 49-46 with 2:53 left in overtime after a layup by sophomore guard Jordan Wolf (10 points), but the Bunnies tied the game at 51 with 1:30 left when senior guard Nick Thomas (nine points) converted a traditional three-point play.
After a layup by Richardson and two free throws from Pointer kept the game tied at 53, the final dramatic 30 seconds played out. Heritage tried to get the ball inside to Richardson on the left block, but Carmien was whistled for a questionable foul call with 29 seconds left.
On the play, Richardson went down in a heap, spraining an ankle.
“It seems like he turns that thing every three days,” Heritage head coach Andy Place said. “When you play without letting it heal all the way, it’s prime to go again. He’s just had trouble with it all year.”
With Richardson having to be helped off the court, Place summoned Wolf from the bench to shoot the two free throws. He made both attempts, giving Heritage a 55-53 lead it would not relinquish.
“When he got injured, I was thinking, ‘Am I going to come in and shoot these free throws?’” Wolf said. “All I was thinking was making the free throws and get back on defense.”
Fisher led 21-14 at halftime thanks to 59 percent shooting (10-of-17) in the first half and an ability to get Taylor in foul trouble. Heritage’s leading scorer and a versatile offensive threat with his 6-foot-5-inch frame, Taylor — who picked up his second foul with 2:33 left in the first quarter — was plagued with foul trouble all game and ended up with eight points before he fouled out with 2:37 left in overtime.
But the Hawks increased their tempo in the third quarter, tying the game at 24 with 2:40 remaining after layup by Richardson and closed out the period on a 6-2 run to go ahead 32-28.
“It’s been an issue all season,” Ragle said of third-quarter struggles by the Bunnies. “We come out of the locker room having talked about it. We know not only do we have to match the intensity, but we have to take it a step above just because that’s been a bad quarter for us.”
Three lead changes ensued in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, with freshman forward Nick Griffith, Farrar and senior guard Luke Harvey coming through with clutch baskets to give Fisher a 36-35 lead with 4:51 left.
“It’s going to pay us dividends, not only for the rest of this season, but also next season in getting Griffith in there,” Ragle said. “Any experience playing varsity is going to help. You’ll get him to relax a little bit more.”
Fisher had a stellar game shooting the ball (22-of-39 for 56 percent, which included an 0-for-1 showing from 3-point range) but struggled with turnovers and finished with 24. Heritage turned the ball over 17 times and shot 19-of-49 (39 percent) from the field, including a dismal 1-of-14 (7 percent) from 3-point range, but nearly doubled Fisher’s points at the foul line (17-of-26 for 65 percent compared to 9-of-16 at a 56 percent for the Bunnies).
Fisher might get a second crack at Heritage in its own gym once more this season. Both teams are in the Class 1A regional the Hawks will host.
“It’s a good sign because that means we’re going to be a tough out in regionals,” Williams said. “We know we can play with them.”