With just under three minutes to play in Saturday’s Region 2-A quarterfinal at OHS Gymnasium, Oneida’s Elijah West walked to the bench during a timeout, smiling and looking at his hand as he chatted with teammates and an assistant coach. You couldn’t hear what West had to say over the cheerleaders and crowd noise, but you didn’t have to be a lip-reader to get the gist of it: his hand was hot.
West had just knocked down back-to-back 3-point shots to blow open a tight game, giving the Indians the momentum they would need for a 61-54 win over Lookout Valley in the elimination game.
Nathan Bowling scored 21 points after getting red-hot in the first half, and three other Oneida players scored in double-figures. But it was West’s big fourth quarter moment that proved to be the difference-maker.
Even though Lookout Valley entered OHS Gymnasium as a decided underdog in Saturday’s game, the Yellow Jackets had kept the game closer than just about anyone imagined, as Chris Dixon hit six 3-point shots and scored a game-high 24 points. Still, you didn’t get the feeling that Oneida was in trouble — not after the two teams traded the lead in the first half, not after the Jackets trimmed an eight-point lead to just one midway through the third quarter.
But with just over three minutes remaining, it seemed like it might be time to start getting concerned. Lookout Valley had fallen behind by eight late in the third quarter, but Corey Talley had hit a buzzer-beater to end the period, and the visitors trailed by just two points, 46-44.
First, West drilled a 3-point shot from the left corner. Then, after a missed shot on the other end, West knocked home another 3-pointer from the top of the key. Just like that, a two-point lead had become eight.
But the spurt wasn’t over. After a Lookout Valley time out, West drove the lane, drawing the defense and dishing the ball to a wide-open Dalton Yancey, who finished with 11 points. Bang, bang, bang. The game had gone from 46-44 to 54-44, and all the drama was erased.
Lookout Valley was able to answer with a Jaylen Bales 3-pointer the next trip down the court, but was unable to get closer to seven points the rest of the way.
To get to that point, the Indians relied heavily on Bowling. He had 15 first half points and played a key role in breaking open an 8-8 deadlock that was in place as the second quarter began.
Yancey had eight rebounds in addition to his 11 points, and point guard Chance Botts had 11 points as well. Kolby Morgan finished with 10 points.
The Indians shot 55 percent from the field, including 50 percent from 3-point range, and only turned the ball over nine times, while out-rebounding Lookout Valley 26-18.
The win lifted Oneida to the Region 2-A semifinals, a game that will be played at Roane State Community College in Harriman on Tuesday.
ONEIDA (61): Bowling 21, Botts 11, Yancey 11, Morgan 10, West 8.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (54): C. Dixon 24, Bates 10, Barber 8, Ray 7, Talley 3, J. Dixon 2.