Will Nonte doesn't always draw attention from the opposing defense, but Friday night he was the biggest Lion in Loogootee. Loogootee (18-5) will play for its second consecutive sectional championship tonight after defeating North Daviess (15-7) 42-35 behind 16 points from Conner Wittmer and 14 points from Nonte.
With the score tied at 32, midway through the fourth quarter, the North Daviess defense keyed in on the two most dangerous Lions - Wittmer and Matt Mathies, but they forgot about Nonte. Nonte scored two uncontested layups to give Loogootee a four-point lead with 1:20 to play in regulation.
"They were so worried about Matt (Mathies) and Conner (Wittmer) that if he (Nonte) could get behind the defense, he's going to score," said Loogootee coach Mike Wagoner.
After Mathies drew an offensive foul from Nick Crays, Wittmer split two free throws to give the Lions a 37-32 lead with 55 seconds remaining. Crays answered with a tip in for a three-point play, and the Cougars suddenly had a pulse again.
Wittmer made two free throws, and Colin Nelson did the same to push the lead to 41-35. Crays misfired on a contested 3-pointer and Wittmer split two more free throws to put the Lions in Saturday's championship game.
Dusten Cook scored 15 points off the bench on five 3-pointers, but didn't score in the fourth quarter. Crays added 13 points in his final game in a Cougar uniform.
"The game just came down to two or three plays, they made them and we didn't," said North Daviess coach Brent Dalrymple. "We just made a couple turnovers, missed a couple shots." Crays was hounded all night into difficult shots from the Loogootee defense, with Mathies guarding him the entire night.
"He (Mathies) struggled from the field, but what you¹'e doing on Crays is going to help us win," Wagoner said. "It made it very difficult for him (Crays) to shoot, he's (Mathies) got long arms. He (Crays) had to take tough shots, and had to do a lot of tough driving. I don't know how much impact that had on his (injured) thumb. Matt didn't score a point, but to me he's one of the MVP's of the game." Loogootee held a 9-6 lead after the first quarter behind five points from Nonte. North Daviess won the second quarter 17-15, but trailed 24-23 at the intermission. Cook scored nine of his 15 points in the second quarter.
Wagoner said the quick turnaround tonight at 7:30 won't be a problem for the Lions, as they attempt to win back-to-back sectional titles for the first time since 2004-2005.
"All we know is we're in the final game, right where we want to be," Wagoner said. "The kids are resilient at this point they want to play. They'll get rested up, and they're ready to protect what we did last year."