Heights' boys basketball team stayed in character. It showed the composure of a team that had been in close games before.
When Evan Wessel missed the second of two free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining and his team up by three points, Perry Ellis did what came naturally. He fought for position and snagged the rebound.
Two free throws later, Heights had a 76-73 victory at Northwest.
"I knew I had to get that rebound just in case he missed," Ellis said. "They could have hit a three and sent it into overtime. I just tried my hardest to get it. Coach (Joe Auer) tells me to focus on rebounding and everything else will come."
Ellis (22 points, eight rebounds) was justified in his concerns about a game-tying three from the Grizzlies. Northwest junior guard June Johnson had pulled off a miracle shot seconds before. Johnson drained a turnaround jumper for three with two defenders smothering him in the right corner with 11 seconds to go. The shot banked in, cutting the deficit to 73-71.
Johnson (24 points) hit two three-pointers, while junior guard Craig Nicholson (23 points) hit five to keep Northwest close.
However, Northwest couldn't overcome 16 turnovers down the stretch.
"It's our experience," Heights' Auer said. "Our kids love the end of games. We win a lot of games like this. We don't play a style that lends itself to blowing people out. We've won a lot of close games, and our kids are calm in those situations. The key is we have to learn to pull away from people."
Northwest coach Chris Collins said his team has the talent to play with Heights, but it will have to put a little more work in to gain the poise it takes to win close games against the league's best.
"Moments like this don't come very often," Collins said. "I want us to get to that level where we're viewed as Heights is.... I see these guys work, and I see their potential. So when I see June and Craig make those shots I'm not surprised. But they haven't scratched the surface of where they can be."
Heights senior guard EJ Dobbins threw aside his role as a distributor and scored seven of his 10 points within a two-minute span in the fourth quarter. He hit a layup with two minutes left to give his team a 67-57 lead.
"They needed me," Dobbins said. "I hadn't really done anything in the last two games. I felt like I needed to step up."
Heights (3-0, 3-0) 15 20 17 24 — 76 Northwest (2-1, 2-1) 18 14 19 22 — 73
HEIGHTS: Dobbins 4 0-0 10, Wessel 6 4-4 16, Smith 5 0-1 12, Moore 5 2-2 12, Degraffenread 0 2-2 2, Ellis 9 4-6 22, Cross 1 0-0 2. 30 (4) 12-19 76.
NORTHWEST: Nicholson 7 4-5 23, Landenberger 2 0-1 5, Miller 3 1-2 7, Gales 5 2-2 12, Johnson 10 0-0 24, Taylor 1 0-0 2. Totals 28 (10) 7-9 73.