FINDLAY — DeShone Kizer and his Central Catholic teammates had never won at Findlay, and suddenly they remembered why.
The massive two-tiered gym rocked Friday night as the Fighting Irish’s vise grip on this key Three Rivers Athletic Conference showdown came undone in the final minutes.
The Trojans wiped out a seven-point deficit in 25 wild seconds, with Adam Twining’s steal and layup tying the game at 45.
“Findlay’s a tough team to play, and when you play them here it makes it 10 times tougher,” Kizer said. “It looked like the whole community came out, and when you’re playing against not only five guys on the court but the rest of the crowd, it’s kind of tough.”
Yet the Irish are nothing if not tested lately, and this time they passed it going away in a 50-47 victory.
In a game between two leading TRAC contenders, senior post Nathaniel Harris scored the biggest two of his team-high 15 points with 52 seconds left, and Central (10-2, 5-1) held on to remain just behind league-leading St. John’s (11-2, 7-0).
Findlay, which was led by senior forward Austin Gutting’s 21 points, fell to 10-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference.
For Central, it was its latest in a series of thrillers. The Irish’s previous three games ended in a a triple-overtime loss to Scott, an overtime loss to St. John’s, and a seven-point win over Woodward.
Friday night nearly featured the same degree of drama.
A balanced Central team that did not require a big night from Kizer — the star guard and Notre Dame-bound quarterback had six points — led most of the night. After falling behind 20-14 in the first quarter, the Irish rallied with a 23-9 run and held steady deep into the fourth quarter.
It was only as they prepared to kill the clock that the night detoured.
With Central leading 45-38, the Trojans made the visitors pay for a pair of missed front ends of one-and-one foul shots and a turnover. Michael Clark hit a 3-pointer to make it 45-41 with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left, Clark followed with a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to two, and Findlay stole the ensuing inbounds pass. Twining, who added 13 points, scored with 1:45 left to tie the game at 45.
The Irish, though, regained their wits. After several clock-draining reversals, Harris slipped free for an open layup with 52 seconds left.
“Coach [Jim Welling] always tells me to find the open gaps in the defense,” Harris said. “That’s what I tried to do.”
Kizer answered a Findlay turnover with two free throws to put Central up 49-45 with 23 seconds left. The Irish secured the win when Twining’s contested half-court shot missed at the buzzer.
“This is a big game for us to get our momentum back,” Kizer said.
Not to mention a big game for the Irish’s conference title hopes.
“You’ve got to stay in there,” Welling said. “Someone’s going to lay an egg on the road one of these days. Hopefully, it’s not us. St. John’s is solid. They’ve got to come down here to play Findlay, we’ve got to go to St. John’s, and Findlay’s got to come to us. There’s a lot of basketball to be played.”
Marcus Winters sank four 3s and finished with 14 points, and Jermiah Braswell added 10 points for the Irish.