MILLEDGEVILLE – Opportunity knocked at winning time for Eastland during Wednesday's NUIC crossover game at Milledgeville.
When the Cougars didn't answer the call, the Missiles were presented with a chance.
Milledgeville took advantage, in the form of two game-winning free throws from senior guard Kameron DawTyne with 3.9 seconds remaining in overtime to steal a 54-52 victory.
"That's the stuff I love," DawTyne said. "I want to be in the center with the game on the line, with my teammates believing in me and us believing in each other. You could never ask for anything better."
Eastland (16-3) overcame an early 19-10 deficit and looked to have the game in hand when reserve forward Valdet Seferi dropped in a pair of free throws with 1:53 remaining to seize a 46-41 lead.
Milledgeville (15-3), however, closed the game with a 6-1 run, capped by a pair of free throws from DawTyne with 30.8 seconds to knot the score at 47-47.
The Cougars then held the ball for the final shot. It was taken by senior guard Dalton Shaner with 4 seconds left in regulation time. The ball hit the side of the rim and hung there tantalizingly for an instant before it fell off. Blake Janssen, Eastland's 6-foot-5 sophomore center, was there for the tip, but that also missed to force overtime.
In the extra period, the lead changed hands four times, then it was tied with 1:11 to go after Milledgevile's Zach Herin hit the second of two free throws to make it 52-52.
Eastland initially seemed content to wait for the final shot, but instead came out firing. Senior guard Devin Hartman missed a long jumper with 47 seconds to go, but Janssen grabbed the rebound.
With 30 seconds remaining, Seferi missed a jumper, but Skylar Paulson came up with the board, giving the Cougars one last opportunity.
Finally, with 7 seconds to go, Paulson put up a long jumper. It missed, DawTyne grabbed the rebound, and he was fouled by Paulson with 3.9 seconds to go.
"When it was overtime and we really needed a stop," Milledgeville coach Brian Rahn said, "and we gave them a second, and then a third shot, I thought, 'Well, I don't think this is going to happen for us.' That's a testament to our kids. They just kept fighting."
DawTyne, who had been 3-for-4 at the line up to that point, swished two in a row to put the Missiles ahead 54-52.
On Eastland's final play, Hartman inbounded the ball to Seferi. He took a dribble, then tried to pass to a teammate near midcourt. The pass was deflected by Milledgeville's Jordan Harris. It went high in the air, and time expired before it hit the ground.
Harris led a balanced attack with 13 points, DawTyne had nine, and Blake Kappes, Herin and Caleb Skoog added eight each. Luke Ebersole added six points on a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which drew the Missiles to within 46-45 with 1:10 left in regulation.
For Eastland, Janssen was a force in the middle with 17 points and 17 rebounds, and Paulson added 11 points and nine boards.
"They're a big, physical team with multiple scorers," DawTyne said. "Coach had it on the board downstairs that we had to fight back. We just kept coming back. We'd take blows, but we kept coming back."
Shaner, the team's top offensive threat, endured a 2-for-17 shooting night and finished with just seven points. He didn't start either half, after being 15 minutes late for the team bus. He fouled out with 3:26 left in overtime.
An off-night by Shaner, shaky execution at crunch time, and a 14-for-27 performance at the free-throw line resulted in just the team's third defeat.
"We have a lot of selfish young men," Eastland coach Tony Dunlap said. "Until they play like a team, we'll be done quick."
The Cougars and Missiles could see each other again, as they are both entered in the Forreston Regional. Seeds and pairings will be determined next Wednesday.
"To get a quality head-to-head win this time of the year, it's very important for us," Rahn said.
Before the game, a moment of silence was held for Milledgeville resident Tim Litwiller, who was killed in a snowmobiling accident last weekend in Wisconsin. His son, Troy Litwiller, plays for the Missiles' fresh-soph team.
The Litwiller family was on DawTyne's mind when he attempted what turned out to be the game-winning shots.
"It would mean so much for me to make these free throws for [Troy], and in his father's name," DawTyne said. "I was thinking of both of them, and then I made the shots."
Star of the game: Kameron DawTyne, Milledgeville, 9 points, 8 rebounds, GW free throws
Key performer: Blake Janssen, Eastland, 17 points, 17 rebounds
Up next: AFC at Milledgeville, Eastland at Lena-Winslow, both 7:30 today