Salina Central guard Brayden Neuschafer started the fourth quarter Tuesday against Derby in attack mode, taking the ball to the basket.
Knowing the danger Neuschafer possesses from long range, Derby coach Brett Flory wasn’t overly concerned.
“Our plan was to chase him off the line,” Flory said. “I’ve seen him hit too many threes over the last four years.”
Neuschafer, who came into the game averaging 19.4 points, didn’t make a three against Derby. But his energy produced six quick points in the fourth quarter, stemming the tide of a strong third by Derby.
Even after missing a shot at the end of regulation, Neuschafer scored eight points in overtime to boost Salina Central to a 60-56 victory, giving the Mustangs sole possession of first place in AV-CTL I.
Salina Central (13-2, 7-1), No. 5 in the Class 5A coaches rankings, overcame a 25-point third quarter by Derby and completed a regular-season sweep of the Panthers. Derby (11-4, 6-2), No. 5 in 6A, missed an opportunity to avenge a 63-54 loss at Central earlier this season.
“It was a grind,” Central coach Doug Finch said. “That’s what it is this time of year. It’s a grind. It’s hard.”
Derby, which got 21 points from guard Nyjee Wright, scored just 13 first-half points. But the Panthers positioned themselves to win by taking a 38-33 lead after three – a quarter punctuated by Wright’s long three-pointer at the buzzer.
“For whatever reason, we came out a little tentative,” Flory said. “We had a tremendous response after halftime by our guys. Then it was just a back-and-forth game.”
Freshman Grant Adler fueled Derby’s big third quarter, scoring all 11 of his points during that stretch. Adler’s spark came after the Panthers trailed 16-6 after one quarter and 21-13 at the break.
Adler’s three-point play with 5:07 remaining in the third gave Derby its first lead at 24-23. The Panthers pushed the advantage to five by quarter’s end when Wright hit a highly contested three.
But Central, which made just one three-pointer in the game, made up for it at the free-throw line. The Mustangs made 18 of 20 free throws after halftime after hitting 5 of 12 in the first half.
“It was just one of those games where we showed a lot of heart,” said Finch, whose team scored the first four points of overtime and took the lead for good on Neuschafer’s two free throws with 1:39 remaining in the extra period. “Everybody’s probably seen at least two films on us, and to go out and figure out how to win was nice.”
The Mustangs, whose only league loss came last week to Newton, got 10 points from Ethan Speer.
“It stinks to come out on the wrong side of it, but we had a pretty good effort,” Flory said. “There are still some games left and it obviously would be nice to win a league championship.
“But we’re working to end our season at Koch Arena (in the 6A tournament), and I think at the end of the day, that’s where we’d rather be.”
Salina Central 16 5 12 12 15 – 60
Derby 6 7 25 7 11 – 56
SALINA CENTRAL: Shaffer 8, Neuschafer 21, Speer 10, Williams 5, Miller 6, Richardson 2, Kickhaefer 3, D. Grammer 3, Driver 2.
DERBY: Wright 21, Adler 11, Clavin 7, Gordon 4, Bell 8, Wilson 5.