The marquee individual matchup for Saturday night’s Bedford-Whitmer boys basketball game never materialized, as Panther star Nigel Hayes was out with an injured left ankle.
Instead, red-hot Whitmer teammate Ricardo Smith did his best to fend off Bedford and standout Jackson Lamb, scoring 21 of his 30 points in the game’s first 11 minutes before a charged-up crowd of 1,800.
Ultimately, it was not enough as Lamb paced the unbeaten Kicking Mules with 32 points and 11 rebounds in a 67-61 overtime win for visiting Bedford.
“We haven’t been down much this year in any game, and tonight we were down for 31 minutes,” Bedford coach Nick Lowe said.
“But we held our composure, and we did what we had to do. These are games that make you better in March.”
With Smith hitting eight of his nine first-half shots from the field, including all five of his 3-point attempts, Whitmer (8-2) grabbed a 22-13 lead after one quarter, then stretched it to 32-16 on a Chris Parker 3-pointer midway in the second.
“That was a great [19-point] quarter by him,” Lamb said of Smith. “He couldn’t miss. We thought it couldn’t last all night, but he had a good second half, too. We just tried to weather the storm.”
By that point, the Panthers had hit all seven of their 3-point attempts, and Bedford struggled for an answer.
“I give credit to my teammates,” Smith said of his hot shooting. “They were able to get me open on screens, and I was able to knock down the shots with confidence.
“They double-teamed in the second half, and I was looking more to get my teammates open because there was one less person being guarded.”
It took almost 31 minutes before the Mules took their first lead of the game, but their meticulous rally eventually paid off in the extra period.
With Whitmer slowly cooling off and becoming more deliberate and even tentative, at times, offensively, Bedford crept back into the game in small chunks. The Mules closed the first half with 10-2 run, pulling to within 34-26 at the break.
Although Whitmer stretched its lead to 49-39 after three quarters, its offense started to slow to a near crawl, with Smith hitting his last field goal of the game — a 3-pointer for his 26th point — with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
No one else seemed to be able to pick for the now doubled-teamed Smith, and the Mules used a 15-3 surge during a span of five-plus minutes to take their first lead on Jacob Wise’s 3-pointer from the left corner with only 1:11 to play in regulation.
After two Smith free throws with 49.6 seconds to go forced overtime, Bedford outscored the Panthers 11-5 in the extra period, with the 6-foot-6 Lamb notching six of those points and grabbing his final five rebounds.
“They didn’t have much size with Nigel out, so we just tried to get post-ups,” Lamb said. “They tried to delay most of the second half, so we kind of felt like maybe they didn’t know what to do.
“With the game on the line going into overtime, we felt like we had them.”
Whitmer made 20 of 41 field goals, 11 of 17 at the line, and — with the 6-foot-7 Wisconsin-bound Hayes out for the second straight night — was outrebounded by the taller Mules 33-18. Parker finished with 12 points for the Panthers, and Luke Hickey added 10 in defeat.
“A few calls didn’t go our way, but I give credit to [Bedford],” Smith said. “They made a good run and were able to pull out the win. Now we need to get ready for Central next week.
“Nigel is a big part of our team. We lose rebounding, we lose assists, and we lose points on the board. When he comes back, we’ll be better as a team.”
Bedford was 22 of 48 from the field and 21 of 29 from the line.
Jeremy Harris, Bedford’s 6-4 junior forward, helped Lamb do damage inside for the Mules, contributing 13 points and 10 rebounds. Dennis Guss added seven points for Bedford.
“I kept telling our guys, ‘It’s 32 minutes. It’s not a half. It’s not a quarter,’ ’’ Lowe said.
“Our guys just kept plugging away and chasing and making it hard on them to get the ball. I think it helped us that we didn’t play [Friday] night, and we battled to the end.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.