Whitmer's Chris Wormley takes a shot over Libbey's Lonacy Utley. The Panthers needed the win to stay alive in the City race. <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href="/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=TO&Date=20100130&Category=SPORTS12&ArtNo=130009998&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b> Whitmer - Libbey prep basketball photo gallery</b></a>
Whitmer's Nigel Hayes was standing at the foul line with the basketball - and the Panthers' City League title hopes - in his hands.
His team trailed visiting Libbey by a single point, and 23.9 seconds were all that remained.
The freshman delivered, making a pair of pressure-packed free throws, and Whitmer managed to survive the Cowboys' final possession to claim a 62-61 City League victory.
Was the freshman nervous?
"I was nervous, but I wasn't that nervous," said Hayes, who finished with a game-high 21 points. "I've been working on my free throws for situations like this."
And the situation was big for the Panthers, who were in danger of falling further behind the logjam at the top of the league standings. Instead Whitmer improved to 9-3 overall and 5-2 in the City League, while Libbey fell to 8-4 and 5-2.
"One of two things was going to happen," Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said. "Either we were going to lose the game and fall two games behind Libbey without the tiebreaker, or we were going to be even with them with the tiebreaker.
"It was a monumental swing with the win. We're very fortunate to be tied with them now."
Dareon Jones finished with 17 points to back Hayes, who also had eight rebounds. Maurice Taylor scored 16 to lead Libbey while Delvin Williams had 13 points as well as nine boards and Maurice Birdsong came off the bench to contribute 12 points for the Cowboys.
The game itself was as evenly matched as the final score would indicate. The Panthers scored the game's first seven points but led just 16-12 after one quarter, then build a seven-point lead early in the second period only to see the Cowboys score seven straight to tie the game at 21 with 4:14 left in the half.
Hayes had 17 points in the first half, scoring nine in the opening quarter and eight in the second.
"I had a bigger, slower guy guarding me," Hayes said. "I used my speed advantage to dribble around him and get layups.
"In the second half they had the whole key locked down, and my shot wasn't falling from the outside."
In the second half Libbey switched to an effective zone that helped the Cowboys score 10 straight points to lead 47-39 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.
"We work on a variety of defenses, and the kids are buying into it," Libbey coach Keith McClure said. "It's all about effort on the kids' part."
But Whitmer used a 10-2 finish to the third quarter to tie the game 49-49 entering the fourth period.
"I thought [the two comebacks] were a matter of taking care of the basketball," McClure said. "When they made their run, they made some mistakes and we were able to capitalize on them.
"After we made our run, we needed to take better care of the basketball."
In the fourth quarter neither team led by more than four points, with Mike Szymanski hitting a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to give Whitmer a 60-59 lead.
Libbey's Brandon Underwood was fouled and made two clutch free throws with 38 seconds to play to give his team a one-point lead, but Hayes was fouled on a drive and sank his two shots to give Whitmer the final margin.
Libbey had one final chance to win the game, but Ken Hayes blocked a shot near the basket, and the ball caromed wildly before flying out of bounds.
Whitmer was given possession with less than two seconds left and ran out the clock to escape with the victory.
"I was disappointed at the way they got around us to the basket," Smith said of the Cowboys' final possession. "But I told the kids to just play as hard as they could and make them throw in some miraculous shot.
"They drove, we blocked it, and then the ball was bouncing all over the place. I knew if the ball stayed away from that orange ring we'd be OK."
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