Prep basketball: Last-second free throws end East’s season at district

Lakota East’s Jalen Peck (44), Bash Wieland (22), Jackson See (4) and Jarrett Cox (right) battle Princeton’s Darweshi Hunter (24) and Gabe O’Neal (23) for a final rebound in the closing seconds of Saturday’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. Hunter got the rebound, was fouled and hit two free throws to give the Vikings a 53-51 victory. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

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Lakota East’s Jalen Peck (44), Bash Wieland (22), Jackson See (4) and Jarrett Cox (right) battle Princeton’s Darweshi Hunter (24) and Gabe O’Neal (23) for a final rebound in the closing seconds of Saturday’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. Hunter got the rebound, was fouled and hit two free throws to give the Vikings a 53-51 victory. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

Jarrett Cox struggled to maintain his composure after an excruciating end to his Lakota East High School boys basketball career Saturday afternoon.

Cox had 19 points and eight rebounds while reaching the 1,000-point mark, but he would’ve traded all those numbers for the Division I district championship that barely eluded the Thunderhawks.

Darweshi Hunter made two free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining at the University of Dayton Arena, giving Greater Miami Conference rival Princeton a 53-51 triumph and its first district title since 2010.

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Mason 54, Lakota West 51

“It’s the hardest loss of the season, man,” said Cox, who started the day with 999 career points. “We played our butts off. It just wasn’t enough. So close.

“It just hurts so bad. I love playing next to my brothers every night. It just hurts leaving them. I know they’re going to come out next year and leave their own legacy.”

East (16-9), making the third district appearance in program history, couldn’t hold a 51-48 lead in the last minute and lost to the Vikings for the third time this season.

“Our guys played their tails off. They always do,” Thunderhawks coach Clint Adkins said. “Sometimes they’re just not a couple points good enough, and that’s the way it was today. We had our opportunities. In key situations, unfortunately we did some things where we didn’t execute, and that was the difference in the game.”

Princeton (23-3) found a way to win despite the absence of two starters, All-American Darius Bazley and Dominic Pierce. They were ejected in the sectional finals and must serve a two-game suspension.

Hunter poured in 25 points, 22 after halftime and 16 in the fourth quarter, and Gabe O’Neal added 11 in the winning effort.

“When I took over this job, I told these guys we were going to change,” first-year Vikings coach Steve Wright said. “From Day 1, it was a challenge. But these guys bought into everything I asked them to do from an academic standpoint and just giving energy and effort in practice. That’s why we’re here. We persevered today. I couldn’t be more happy for these guys.”

Hunter was the key for Princeton down the stretch. His 3-pointer with 44.5 seconds left knotted the contest at 51-51.

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Lakota East’s Grant Spicer (bottom) calls a timeout with Princeton’s Gabe O’Neal on top of him during Saturday afternoon’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

Lakota East’s Grant Spicer (bottom) calls a timeout with Princeton’s Gabe O’Neal on top of him during Saturday afternoon’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

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Lakota East’s Grant Spicer (bottom) calls a timeout with Princeton’s Gabe O’Neal on top of him during Saturday afternoon’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

“I didn’t want to go home,” said Hunter, a senior guard. “I had to play, just put everything out there.”

After an East turnover with 24.2 seconds remaining, Hunter launched a trey from the top of the key in the final seconds. He scrambled for his own rebound and was fouled with 0.5 on the clock, calmly converting two foul shots to clinch it.

“A whole lot of fun, one of the funnest games of my life,” Hunter said. “I practice free throws all day. I shoot the ball, so I should be able to make open free throws and just knock ’em down real easy.”

The foul that was called on Bash Wieland wasn’t a no-doubter, though Hunter said there was definitely contact.

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Lakota East’s Jalen Peck reacts to a last-second foul call on the Thunderhawks during a Division I district final against Princeton on Saturday afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

Lakota East’s Jalen Peck reacts to a last-second foul call on the Thunderhawks during a Division I district final against Princeton on Saturday afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

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Lakota East’s Jalen Peck reacts to a last-second foul call on the Thunderhawks during a Division I district final against Princeton on Saturday afternoon at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

“When I was taking it up, he smacked me on my wrist,” he said. “I kind of like flailed and just shot it, and they gave me a foul.”

Hunter was 14 of 14 at the line on a day when the Vikings were 23 of 24. Adkins said his game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute was simply clutch.

“That’s where you just pat the guy on the butt and say, ‘Great job,’ ” the East coach said. “He hit some big-time shots tonight.”

Said Wright, “He’s a big-game guy. In any sport, you want a guy that can score the ball, and that’s what Darweshi can do.”

He said winning without Bazley and Pierce is clearly a difficult task, but that’s Princeton’s goal. The Vikings will meet Wayne (24-1) at 8 p.m. on Wednesday in the regional semifinals at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.

“Darius is so dynamic,” Wright said. “He does everything. He’s a rim protector. He can push the ball in transition. He scores the ball. He alters shots. Dominic is the same way. He can make shots and stretch the floor from the outside. He can defend. He can rebound.

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Lakota East’s Jarrett Cox is under the watchful eye of Princeton’s Aaron Ward during Saturday afternoon’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Lakota East’s Jarrett Cox is under the watchful eye of Princeton’s Aaron Ward during Saturday afternoon’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

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Lakota East’s Jarrett Cox is under the watchful eye of Princeton’s Aaron Ward during Saturday afternoon’s Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

“They’re definitely going to be missed, but hey, we’ve got work to do. We’re going to get our guys prepared for this next game and hopefully we can pull it out so we can have those guys back.”

Wieland scored 16 and Jackson See had 9 for the Thunderhawks, and Jalen Peck dished out five assists. East’s defense was very good all day, limiting the Vikings to 39.4-percent shooting.

“Going into it, you typically don’t worry about defense because I know we’re going to play hard,” Adkins said. “We took charges and got on loose balls.”

The Thunderhawks are losing seven seniors: Peck, See, Cox, Nate Honigford, Isaiah Flood, Corie Blount and Kolbe Fuhrmann.

“Just an awesome group of kids,” Adkins said. “We talk about doing things the East way. They are as selfless as any group I’ve ever been around. I’m going to miss them dearly.

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Lakota East’s Bash Wieland (with ball) is guarded by Princeton’s Aaron Ward on Saturday afternoon during a Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

Lakota East’s Bash Wieland (with ball) is guarded by Princeton’s Aaron Ward on Saturday afternoon during a Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

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Lakota East’s Bash Wieland (with ball) is guarded by Princeton’s Aaron Ward on Saturday afternoon during a Division I district final at the University of Dayton Arena. MARC PENDLETON/STAFF

“We started out 4-5, and to end the season like we did and play great basketball in January and February and win a sectional championship, I’m so proud of the guys. Basketball comes and goes, wins and losses come and go, but what doesn’t is the relationships you build with these kids. A lot of times I spend more time with them than I do my real family. It’s definitely a bittersweet ending.”

Lakota East 9-16-8-18—51

Princeton 9-13-10-21—53

LAKOTA EAST (16-9): Jackson See 3 1 9, Alex Mangold 1 2 4, Bash Wieland 6 2 16, Jarrett Cox 7 5 19, Jaden Peck 1 0 2, Grant Spicer 0 1 1. Totals: 18-11-51

PRINCETON (23-3): Khalil Davis 2 0 5, Isaiah Kennedy 1 6 8, Aaron Ward 2 0 4, Gabe O’Neal 4 3 11, Darweshi Hunter 4 14 25. Totals: 13-23-53

3-pointers: L 4 (See 2, Wieland 2), P 4 (Hunter 3, Kennedy)

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