Whitens delivers for Jets under pressure

CARNEY – Eleven fourth quarter lead changes came down to a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining.

With his team trailing by one-point, North Central freshman Jason Whitens stepped to the line and sunk two pressure free throws, giving the top-ranked Jets the final lead and a 71-70 victory over Carney-Nadeau on Wednesday night.

Prior to the free throws, North Central fell behind 70-69 with 7.1 seconds left, forcing head coach Adam Mercier to call a timeout.

“We wanted to get either Jason or Rob dribbling up the floor as fast as they could and then try to draw some contact, being in the bonus,” Mercier said. “We were able to do that and the freshman stepped up and hit two pressure free throws and once again he was resilient.”

Whitens, hit two free throws less than minutes earlier to give the Jets a 67-66 lead. On North Central’s next possession, Travis Vincent grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to put the Jets ahead 69-66 with 1:40 left in the game.

“Sometimes the best thing to do is just get it up on the rim because we have three or four post players that can get up and be aggressive and I think overall our kids realized their mismatches and were able to take advantage of it,” Mercier said.

The Wolves’ Dionte Blahnik responded with a pull-up jumper in the lane to cut the Jets lead to 69-68. On the Jets’ next possession, Whitens had a offensive rebound go off his foot, as Carney took over with 36 seconds left.

The Wolves took a timeout and setup a play for senior Austin Johnson, who prior to the play only had three points on the night. Johnson drove the lane and connected on a contested lay-up over Vincent with 7.1 seconds left as Carney snagged a 70-69 lead.

“Austin’s very good at going to his right hand so we were going to clear it out for him or Keenan could come for a handoff, that’s kind of why we went at 15 (seconds),” said Wolves head coach Jacob Polfus. “I thought if we ran it at 10 (seconds), I didn’t know if we could get a shot off and we went with 15 and got our shot off nice and quick.”

With seven seconds left, the Jets turned to Whitens, who raced up the court and spun out of a Carney trap that resulted in a whistle against Keenan Lampinen and the game winning trip to the line. Lampinen heaved a last second half-court shot that drew iron but came up short.

“We got caught in a bad situation I think,” Polfus said. “We should have been backing up more but give the kids credit in that type of situation it’s hard to tell the kids what to do.”

The Wolves trailed by as much as 12 points in the third quarter but got a boost off the bench from Manuel Duran. The sophomore hit two third quarter 3-pointers to keep the Wolves close and connected on a third trey in the fourth quarter to pull the Wolves within three points.

“He’s really coming of age, he’s playing better and better each time and he’s getting more confidence and that’s just his work ethic in practice and he’s doing better at that,” Polfus said.

“For a sophomore to step up at this stage, that shows me right there that he can play in District 10.”

Carney trailed 56-48 early in the fourth quarter but used a 9-0 run to take a 57-56 advantage with 5:25 remaining.

“Trevor Ekberg and Rob Granquist were in foul trouble for almost the entire second half so playing without those two tonight, for that stretch, really hurt us and Carney was able to go on a run there,” Mercier said.

The Wolves fought back to take a 61-60 lead on a pair of free throws from Blahnik. On the Jets following possession, Vincent drained a corner 3-pointer as a whistle blew off the ball. The shot counted and North Central retained possession. Vincent grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the next play as the Jets used a five-point swing to take a 65-61 lead. Vincent netted nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.

The Wolves responded with a 5-0 run of their own as Caine Knaus hit a 3-pointer and Lampinen scored on a scoop lay-up, for two of his game high 25 points, putting Carney ahead 66-65 in a game that featured 18 lead changes.

“I think both of the teams will agree that these kind of games will make both teams better by seasons end,” Mercier said. “Pressure atmosphere tonight, closely officiated like tournaments should be and I thought once again we handled some adversity and came away with a tough road victory.”

While the Jets had a strong performance from the free throw line (10-13), Carney struggled as they shot 12-of-19 for game and 4-of-11 in the first half.

“We are only shooting like 60 percent on the year and we’ve got to continue to work on that because we had chances to go up seven or eight early in the first half if we would have made our free throws and we kind of let them hang around and that will come back to bite you sometimes,” Polfus said.

North Central improves to 14-0, 8-0 in the CUP and 10-0 in the Skyline. Carney drops to 10-4, 5-3 in the CUP and 5-3 in the Skyline. The Wolves are back in action Friday as they host Stephenson. North Central hits the court again on Friday as it travels to Big Bay de Noc.