WAUSEON — Bryan and Wauseon understood what was at stake Friday night.
The winner would grab a share of the Northwest Ohio Athletic Conference boys basketball championship. The loser would end up wondering what could have been.
Bryan’s Thomas Martin wanted to avoid the latter and played huge in leading the Golden Bears to a 72-65 victory.
Martin, a 6-foot-3 senior, scored a team-high 28 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Bryan (13-8, 7-1 NWOAL) to a share of the title with Archbold (16-4, 7-1), which defeated Evergreen 53-36.
Austin Schimmoeller pumped in 15 points, and Alex Thiel delivered 14 for Bryan.
The Golden Bears let a shot at winning a piece of the title slip away in the same game a year ago. Memories of losing to the Indians in last season’s regular-season finale served as season-long fuel for the Golden Bears.
“We had a lot of those kids playing in that basketball game last year, and they remembered that, and they just wanted to come out and try to redeem themselves,” Bryan coach Doug Billman said.
However, none seemed more focused than Martin.
“The great thing about Thomas Martin is we ask him to do a lot of things — score, rebound, handle the basketball for us,” Billman said. “He excels in a lot of those things, and he stepped up in a big game and made a lot of plays.”
Martin said the Golden Bears were ready to play and determined to do whatever it took to end the regular season on a winning note.
“At the beginning of the season, our No. 1 goal was to win the league championship, and tonight we did that,” he said. “We came out and played our hearts out. It was our last regular season game, and we had nothing to lose.
“We came out here and played as hard as we could, and we got the win.”
Wauseon’s 6-5 senior, Noah Castle, kept the Indians in the contest by exerting himself around the basket. He bulldozed his way to a game-high 33 points and grabbed nine boards.
Castle scored 23 points in the final quarter, which included a 9-for-11 effort at the free throw line. He finished 11 for 13 at the line.
Kris Boysel chipped in 17 points and six boards, and Jacob Newlove added nine points for the Indians (15-6, 6-2).
However, the Indians couldn’t overcome a 20-point hole halfway through the third quarter after Bryan opened the period with a 16-2 run.
“I did like the way we played and I did like the effort,” Wauseon coach Chad Burt said. “I thought we had our backs to the wall, and we came out and played fast and played hard, but give credit to them. They made free throws.
“They made shots down the stretch, and they made plays, and they won it. I don’t think it was a case where we necessarily lost it. I thought they went out and won it, and they played well.”
The Golden Bears won the game with steady free-throw shooting, making good on 24 of 31 attempts — all of their made free throws came after halftime.
The Indians were 27 for 32 from the foul line.
“Free throws win championships, and this is proof of it tonight,” said Martin, who was 14 for 16 from the line.