As the ball floated straight in the hands of Noah Finstad in the seconds before his game-winning lay-up, the Conway Springs senior was stunned.
A free throw by Gunnar Denney had just brought Conway Springs level with Cheney and Cheney was sprinting down the court with under 20 seconds remaining in pursuit of a last-second shot for the win. Instead, the ball pressure of Conway Springs jarred the ball loose and the resulting scramble popped the ball up right up to a waiting Finstad.
It created a fast break and Finstad dribbled from the opposite free-throw line to the basket for the game-winning lay-up with six seconds remaining in Conway Springs’ 40-38 come-from-behind victory over Cheney on Tuesday night. Conway Springs improved to 14-4, while Cheney dropped to 9-9.
“When I caught the ball, I’m not going to lie, I almost paused for a second because I was so stunned,” Finney said of the fortuitous bounce. “But I knew I had to make that final play. That was crazy. You get so caught up in the game and your love for the game just takes over.”
It spoiled what appeared to be a second straight loss to a team lower in the Central Plains League standings for Conway Springs, which suffered a 59-54 loss to Garden Plain on Friday.
Falling behind by 10 points in the second quarter to Cheney brought a hint of concern from Conway Springs, which also lost by one point to Trinity Academy on Feb. 3.
“I don’t know how it can’t be in the back of your mind,” Conway Springs coach Paul Lange said. “We’ve lost a few close games over the last few weeks that we felt like we let get away. We had to claw our way back into this one.”
Cheney excelled with coach Lee Baldwin’s game plan of drawing the posts of Conway Springs away from the basket, which opened up the lane and allowed Cheney to crash the glass and out-rebound Conway Springs by eight in the first half.
But things began to change once Cheney started playing with a lead. The tempo slowed to a crawl and Conway Springs started cleaning up the boards. Where Cheney was scoring so much on second chances in the first half, those opportunities were no longer there in the second.
And Cheney has also had its own run of close losses, as Tuesday’s defeat dropped Cheney’s record to 1-5 in games decided by six points or less this season.
After Cheney took a 37-33 lead with two minutes remaining, not much went right the rest of the game. Cheney would miss three of four free throws and commit a turnover, allowing Conway Springs to rally to tie the game at 38 with 21 seconds left and then take the lead after the steal and lay-in.
After Finstad scored the go-ahead lay-up, Cheney launched a potential game-winning three-pointer just inside the half-court line but it bounced off the glass to finalize the comeback by Conway Springs.
“You get to this time of the year and you may not shoot the ball as well as you want and you may not be able to run some things you want because teams are good and they take that away,” Lange said. “What you counter with is good defense of your own and that’s what you like to see is us converting our defense into offense on that last play.”
Lange hopes Tuesday’s dramatic victory is just what Conway Springs needs following two close losses in the month of February.
Josh Dugan led Conway Springs with 12 points, while Trent Scheer led Cheney with eight points.
“We really needed that,” Lange said. “Hopefully it’s kind of a shot in the arm for us and we can get back to playing the Conway Springs basketball we were playing.”