Leopold senior Larry Nussbaum shoots from the lane over Oak Ridge defenders during their semifinal game Thursday in the Mississippi Valley Conference tournament in Zalma.
Nussbaum and his Leopold teammates looked like pros at handling the pressure Thursday.
The Wildcats hit 12 of their 14 free throws in the second half and overtime as they squeaked out a 74-68 victory over Oak Ridge in the semifinals of the Mississippi Valley Conference tournament.
"There's a lot of pressure," Nussbaum said. "I get so nervous. That's as nervous as I get in the game, shooting free throws.
"You can shoot free throws all day in the gym, but you can never have that kind of pressure on you when you're shooting."
Nussbaum hit a pair of free throws with just over 2 minutes left in overtime to erase the Blue Jays' lead. It was the last time Oak Ridge would hold the lead.
Anthony Seabaugh went 3 of 4 from the line while Darren VanGennip hit both of his attempts in the closing minute of overtime.
"We try to put them in positions in practice where it puts pressure on them," Leopold coach Shawn Kinder said. "We shoot a lot of free throws as a team after scrimmaging or conditioning at the end of practice."
Leopold will face Zalma tonight for the tournament title.
The game went to overtime because of some nifty free-throw shooting by the Blue Jays (9-8). Brett Thomas earned a trip to the line with his team trailing by two and 16.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
After a timeout, Thomas stood at the top of the key chuckling to himself before stepping to the line for his two attempts.
"I was thinking that I'd missed about every free throw for the last three days," Thomas said. "I couldn't believe it came down to me shooting a free throw instead of a jump shot. All I could do was grin or I was going to get nervous."
Thomas calmly hit both of his attempts without either one touching the rim.
"It's pretty tough, but you've got so much adrenaline going," Thomas said. "You don't really hear any of the crowd. You've got to go back to the basics in practice."
Nussbaum had a shot at the end of regulation but couldn't get it to go, forcing overtime.
The major blow to Oak Ridge came when junior Garret Light fouled out with 2:03 left in overtime. He and Thomas had produced most of their team's scoring and also did most of the ball handling.
"It just takes away our main threat on the open floor," Thomas said. "It's always good to have another shooter, a dribble driver and who can make free throws. It just hurts to take out your best ball handler with 3 minutes left in overtime."
Oak Ridge never led after Light fouled out.
It looked like Leopold (13-2) would cruise after a strong second quarter. VanGennip heated up from outside, hitting four 3-pointers over a 3 1/2-minute span.
"It's important that you keep your composure and shoot with confidence because if you don't shoot with confidence, you're not going to make your shots," VanGennip said.
VanGennip finished with a game-high 32 points, but Oak Ridge coach Adam Stoneking was pleased with his team's defense on the Wildcats' standout.
"I thought we defended him well on most of them," Stoneking said of VanGennip's 3-point shooting. "He got one that was pretty open. But there were three of them where we were right there on him. That's what he's going to do. He is, in my opinion, one of the top two or three shooters in the area."
Leopold enjoyed an eight-point lead at halftime after shooting 58 percent (15 of 26) from the floor in the first half.
But Oak Ridge refused to wilt. Thomas struggled in the first half, going 3 of 11 from the field. But he came out on fire in the third quarter, hitting for nine points and making four straight baskets.
"Coach said just keep attacking and good things will happen," Thomas said. "I composed myself. In the first half, I got ahead of myself and I started taking bad shots. In the second half, I slowed it down a little bit, started getting in the paint and making easy shots."
Thomas scored 22 points after halftime and finished with 29. Light added 20.
Oak Ridge 13 16 21 11 7 — 68
Leopold 14 23 13 11 13 — 74
OAK RIDGE (68) — Garret Light 20, Brett Thomas 29, Logan Mangels 11, Caleb Elam 4, Ethan Sachs 2, Lucas Rohde 2. FG 26, FT 13-20, F 14. (3-pointers: Thomas 2, Mangels 1. Fouled out: Light)
LEOPOLD (74) — Darren VanGennip 32, Larry Nussbaum 15, Dustin Thiele 8, Wade Wiseman 7, Anthony Seabaugh 9, David Fluchel 3. FG 27, FT 13-15, F 17. (3-pointers: VanGennip 5, Wiseman 1, Fluchel 1. Fouled out: Thiele)