After a late rally proved to be too little in the semifinal game against Mercer, the Linn County boys' basketball team prevailed in the third-place game in the Meadville Invitational Tournament on Friday night.
With an exciting 77-72 victory against Northwestern, the Mustangs finished the tournament 2-1 and walked away with a third-place placard.
"We squeezed one out there at the end, but we made some big plays down the stretch and knocked down some free throws," Linn County coach Jason White said. "They ran out of time, but that's why you play four quarters."
Linn County scored the first nine points of the basketball game before Northwestern sharpshooter Wade Adams knocked down a three-pointer at the halfway mark in the first quarter. The Mustangs held an 18-7 lead through the first period, and extended their lead to 39-22 by the time of the final buzzer in the first half.
Jase White was forced to sit early in the second half when he picked up his fourth foul. He had scored 14 of his 25 points up to that juncture, and between then and the end of the third quarter, Northwestern had three and-one opportunities and converted on each. When Adams knocked down a floater at the third-quarter buzzer, the Mustangs lead was shaved back within 10 at 52-43.
With 4:30 remaining in the ball game, the Mustangs had stretched the disparity to 66-52, but Northwestern scored a quick eight unanswered points over the next minute and a half to reach back within six.
Linn County's Kade Ward knocked down a deep shot with 1:25 remaining, but Northwestern still had some theatrics up its sleeve. Over the next minute of play, the Eagles mounted an 8-2 run to draw back within three points at 75-72. The Mustangs iced the game with a pair of free throws, and too little time remaining for the Eagles to complete the comeback.
"We've played so much up-and-down this year, not even necessarily from game to game, but even within the game like you saw tonight," White said. "I feel like pulling out a close one against an explosive team like Northwestern is a big step for us. The last few games like this, we weren't able to close out at the end."
Behind White, Chadley Waltz finished with 15 points on the low block, and guard Michael O'Kane posted 14. Ward finished with nine.
The Mustangs play again Tuesday when they host Bucklin/Macon County.