Wesleyan holds on to beat North 66-64

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

SUWANEE -- Wesleyan held a big lead late and nearly saw it slip away, but when the final buzzer sounded, all that mattered was that it had two more points than its opponent.

Playing host North Gwinnett in the semifinals of the Jared Cook Holiday Classic on Tuesday night, Wesleyan advanced to the boys championship by dodging a last-second 3-point attempt from North's Conner Day to escape with a 66-64 win over the Bulldogs.

The Wolves (9-3) will play tonight at 8:10 against Richmond Academy for the tournament crown.

"When you beat a host team, in their building, in their tournament with them fighting and clawing, you are just glad to get out with a win," Wesleyan head coach Skip Matherly said. "That's the bottom line."

With 1:39 left to play, Wesleyan looked to have already secured its spot in the championship game with a seemingly comfortable 66-53 lead.

However, North (6-5) put together a quick 8-0 spurt over the next 52 seconds. Part of that run came off two crucial turnovers forced by North's press, leading to easy buckets by Cyrus Lavant and Day to cut the margin to 66-61 with 41 seconds left.

Wesleyan's Griffin Schamp, who led all players with 24 points, had a chance to keep North at bay from the free throw line with 39.9 seconds left but missed the front end of the one-and-one.

North took advantage when Alex Tiller, who finished with 17 points, took a pass from Clayton Williams and hit a 3-pointer with 31 seconds to play to cut the margin to 66-64.

Wesleyan again had an opportunity to secure the game with free throws but Shane Smith, who had a solid game with eight points, eight rebounds and four assists, missed the front end of the bonus with 16.8 seconds to go.

North brought the ball up court and Day, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 19 points, worked his way open on the right side, took a pass and got a good look at the basket but couldn't get the shot to drop.

Lavant was able to get the rebound but was whistled for going over the back with 2.7 seconds left, leaving the Wesleyan fans breathing a sigh of relief.

"Our defensive intensity just isn't there," North head coach Len Garner said. "I think we can score with just about anybody. One of our goals this year was to hold our opponents to 55 points or less and we haven't done that yet. We knew (Wesleyan) could shoot the ball well and we didn't step up tonight."

Both teams battled to a 27-27 tie in the first half when Wesleyan's outside game began to heat up. Andrew Frerking, who was scoreless in the first half, found his range and hit three 3-pointers in the third period and two more in the fourth to finish with 15 points.

Wesleyan, which hit 11 treys in last night's win over Flowery Branch, was solid again from outside against North with eight more.

"In the first half, I felt like North was the agressor on both ends of the court and Griffin was the only guy we had who was taking the ball to them," Matherly said. "At halftime, I said that Frerking must get touches on every possession. We were able to get into a flow and (Frerking) was able to knock down some shots."

Guard Wes Caver added 10 points for Wesleyan to go along with three assists.

"No one gave us a chance to win this thing last year and we came out of nowhere and took it," Garner said. "We're disappointed we won't get that chance this year but life goes on and we'll come out and play tomorrow."

The Bulldogs will play Newton today at 5 p.m. for third place.