Dec 26, 2013
The Apex Middle Creek Mustangs flirted with an upset in the first game of the HighSchoolOT Holiday Invitational but could not pull off the feat in the final minute, falling to Wilbraham & Monson Academy (MA) 67-65 to open the Summit Hospitality bracket.
With less than a minute to play in the game, W&M's Curtis Cobb turned the ball over on a failed dunk attempt and the Mustangs charged down the court and scored from deep to pull within just a point with 16 seconds to play.
On the Titans' ensuing trip up the court, the team turned the ball over out of bounds to give Middle Creek a final chance to take the lead with nine seconds on the clock. W&M responded with a steal on the inbound pass and Cobb knocked down a free throw to pad the Titan lead. With Middle Creek down 67-65 with 3 seconds left, the team turned the ball over once more on a high inbound pass and the Titans held on to win.
"I was real confident that we were going to get the win," said W&M starting center Goodluck Okonoboh. "I wasn't stressing. I know we have good guys here and I was confident."
The Mustangs set the early tone in the game when John Perron connected from deep for the team's first points of the game. Minutes later, Middle Creek's Justin Tankelewicz made a 3-pointer to add to the lead. He went on to make four three-pointers in the first half and seven in the game, finishing one shy of the Holiday Invitational single-game record.
"My teammates are really good at finding me, especially Bryson [Cousins]," Tankelewicz said. "They'll find me when I'm hot."
Tankelewicz's shooting and a late three-point-play from Mustang center Fred Iruafemi gave Middle Creek a 33-29 lead at halftime.
The Titans battled back in the second half and closed out the third quarter on a 10-0 run. Okonoboh, a UNLV-recruit, scored six of the ten points during the stretch. Okonoboh is the No. 4-ranked center in the Class of 2014, according to ESPN.
Okonoboh scored first the fourth quarter and Indiana-recruit Max Hoeztel added late scoring to lead the Titans over the Mustangs in the final seconds. Tankelewicz was held without a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
"We locked in," said Titan head coach Chris Sparks. "I give the kids a lot of credit because they came into the huddle saying, 'We're not letting him shoot anymore.'"
Cobb finished with a team-high 19 points for the Titans and Okonoboh scored 18 more. Hoeztel finished with 12 points and Marcel Pettway scored 11 in the win.
Tankelewicz's shooting gave him a game-high 22 points for the Mustangs. Iruafemi finished the game with 11 points. No other Middle Creek player finished the game in double-figures.
"Despite not playing the best that we could, I thought we fought as hard as we have all year," Middle Creek head coach David Kushner said. "I'm so proud of these guys and I thought it was such an exciting first game of the tournament to be a part of. I love the way that my guys stepped up to the challenge."
The Titans will advance in the bracket to face the winner of the game between Sanderson and Carlisle (VA) at 4 p.m. The game will be played Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Middle Creek will play the loser of the Sanderson vs. Carlisle game Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT
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