WHEELING - Capping off a dominating performance on both ends of the floor, Magnolia's 6-foot-6 sophomore pivot Mark Winters flashed across the foul line and banked a soft one-hander off the glass with 5 seconds remaining in the second overtime to lift the Blue Eagles past host Wheeling Central Catholic 60-59 on Tuesday night.
Winters dropped in 29 points, 21 of which came in the second half and the overtimes, collared 16 rebounds, blocked four shots and altered several others as Magnolia racked up victory No. 12 against six losses.
''It wasn't only a designed play to get Mark the ball at the end, it was our plan for the entire second half,'' Blue Eagles coach Dave Tallman said. ''We felt Mark had the advantage with his size and presence in there. Once he got his rhythm, he was hard to stop.''
Wheeling Central’s Marcus Clifford (22) has his shot blocked by Magnolia’s Mark Winters during action of their game Tuesday night.
Wheeling Central's struggles at the free-throw line, especially in the second overtime, provided the visitors with their opportunity to pull out a hard-earned victory.
The Maroon Knights, seeing their record slip back to .500 at 9-9, netted 1 of 5 foul shots during the second OT, missing both ends of a two-shot foul that could have given them a three-point lead with 17 seconds remaining.
Overall, Central was 15 of 28 at the stripe, hitting 6 of 14 second-half opportunities.
''We keep talking about how free throws can win or lose a close game and this time they cost us,'' Maroon Knights coach Mel Stephens said.
Winters, not known for being a good foul shooter, hit some critical free throws at crunch time. He was 2 of 6 during the opening half but knocked down seven of his last nine, including five in a row in the latter stages of the fourth quarter and the first overtime.
After trailing most of the night, the Blue Eagles had an opportunity to win in regulation, putting together a 16-3 run to jump in front 46-42 on Winters' three-point play with a little more than 2 minutes on the clock. Brandon Ingram, Central's season-long clutch performer whose trifecta at the buzzer in overtime last week capped a comeback victory against city rival Linsly, drilled another big 3 cutting the deficit to one point with 90 seconds to play.
The Blue Eagles then turned the ball over and Shane Livingston was hacked while putting up a shot at the other end of the court. He canned 1 of the 2 attempts, tying the score at 46-46 with 1:04 to play. Neither team scored the rest of the way with Magnolia turning the ball over while trying to get it inside with a possible game-winning shot.
Neil McCormick, after scoring two points in regulation, opened the overtime with a triple from the left corner to give the Maroon Knights the lead at 49-46. Jayson Keller countered with his own triple to tie it up again.
The only scoring the remaining of the first OT came at the foul line, with Shane Greskevitch hitting a pair for the Maroon Knights and Winters doing the same for the Blue Eagles. Central had a late chance at the foul line only to miss again and Magnolia failed to convert on Winters' stickback attempt after Matt Sapp's shot was off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
Ingram's runner enabled Central to draw first blood in overtime No. 2. Winters then scored on a putback. McCormick drained another 3-pointer from the baseline while being heavily defended as Central went in front 56-53.
The Maroon Knights couldn't stop Winters inside again as his basket moved the Blue Eagles within 56-55. Livingston's feed to Ingram resulted in an easy two points, restoring the three-point lead.
Magnolia freshman Zach Willhoite swished a pull-up jumper in the lane for a 58-57 reading with Central still on top as the clock ticked below 2 minutes.
McCormick dropped in 1 of 2 at the foul line and Winters did the same for Magnolia, leaving the Blue Eagles still on the short end by one point. Central was able to run the clock down to less than 30 seconds when Ingram missed a short jumper but Joel Jarrett darted inside and kept possession for the hosts.
The Maroon Knights then missed twice from the foul line and Winters grabbed the rebound after the second failed shot at the 10-second mark.
At this point, Tallman called timeout to set up a quick play that saw the ball get into Winters' hands for the turnaround winner that gave Magnolia the lead for good with 5 seconds remaining.
The ball was passed in to Ingram who raced down the right side of the floor, pulled up and attempted a 10-foot jumper that bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded for the final time.
''I thought we played real well defensively in the second half boxing them out, but Central still hit some gigantic shots,'' Tallman said. ''This is one of the toughest places to come out with a win. You walk into the gym and see all those (championship) banners and it can be intimidating especially for our younger kids.''
One of the Magnolia youngsters had himself a solid night against the Maroon Knights. The 6-5 Willhoite came through with 10 points and did a good job battling under the glass.
''We opted to play him jayvee ball early in the season and assistant coach Mark Blair did a terrific job developing him,'' Tallman explained. ''He got some open looks and knocked down the shots.
I thought Zach also played well defending Greskevitch inside.''
Central, which next meets Wheeling Park tonight at WesBanco Arena, had three double-figure scorers, led by Ingram's 18 points. Livingston tossed in 12 and Greskevitch finished with 10.
Although scoring just four points before fouling out late in the second overtime, junior Lee Peluchette earned some praise from Stephens.
''Lee's played well the last three or four games for us. I thought he did a good job battling inside against all their size.
''I was very pleased without effort but we did not execute very well at times.''
Magnolia will turn from this victory to a key home game Saturday night against Section One, Class AA rival Weir. The game was changed from Friday to Saturday at Weir High's request. Tipoff for the varsity contest will be at 6:30 p.m .