Advance boys basketball sunk by Walnut Grove's late rally, 65-62, in Class 1 title game

Saturday, March 11, 2017
Advance basketball team react after the Class 1 championship game between Advance and Walnut Grove Saturday, March 11, 2017 at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Walnut Grove won 65-62.
Andrew J. Whitaker ~ Southeast Missourian

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Sometimes you just meet your match.

In a state title game in which one shot would have made the difference, the Advance boys basketball team didn’t find the one it needed while Walnut Grove rallied behind its 3-point shooting, hit big free throws in the final seconds and celebrated a 65-62 win in the MSHSAA Class 1 State Championship on Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena on the campus of the University of Missouri.

Advance led by as many as nine points with 1 minute, 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

“It was a tough, tough game; tough loss,” Advance coach Bubba Wheetley said. “We played hard all the way until the end. They just made a few more shots than we did. … We didn't extend enough. We should have been out there on them. We weren't out there on them, and they made those shots.”

Walnut Grove basketball team react after the Class 1 championship game between Advance and Walnut Grove Saturday, March 11, 2017 at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Walnut Grove won 65-62.
Andrew J. Whitaker ~ Southeast Missourian

With the Hornets (26-7) so close to their first state championship in 42 years, it was instead the Tigers (29-4) who celebrated their first ever title.

“There's not even words to describe,” Walnut Grove coach Darin Meinders said. “That's what I told them in the locker room, 'I can't even talk right now. I'm so proud of what you guys did.’

“Advance is a great team. We faced as good as there was in Class 1 and went toe-to-toe with them. Someone asked what it means. It means I got great players. My job is to stay over there and not screw it up.”

Advance still led by as many as seven in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t find a way to slow down the Tigers from long range, where Walnut Grove feasted to the tune of 4-of-7 shooting in the final quarter to erase the gap.

As the Tigers made plays down the stretch, the Hornets failed to; their shooting percentage was cut in half in the final two quarters.

“They took it out of us,” Advance senior Dawson Mayo said. “They're a good team, but we did pretty much all we could do. Just, big stage like this it's going to happen. Have a couple turnovers. I mean, they were a big part of it. They played good defense.”

Still, Preston Wuebker hit a 3-pointer to knot the game at 62-all with 42 seconds remaining before a Michael Hood foul at mid court put Thomazin on the line for Walnut Grove. The Tigers standout sank both shots to grab a 64-62 edge.

Wuebker followed with a missed 3, but Walnut Grove missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the other end and a rebound then a timeout with 16 seconds left gave the Hornets possession.

Carson Miles ended up with a look from outside the arc from the top-right wing, launching a shot that was on line but didn’t slip through the hoop. It was Advance’s last chance, as Thomazin split free throws at the other end with less than half a second remaining.

Thomazin, who entered the final four averaging 24 points per game, finished with 31 points, including 13 in the final quarter, hitting three 3s down the stretch to spark the comeback. He had gone 1 of 12 from the floor in the middle two quarters and 0 of 6 from 3 during that period.

“I'm just going to say it again, ‘Shooters shoot,’” Thomazin said. “We all get each other open. I don't know what to say. I just keep shooting.”

Advance had taken a lead with an 18-3 swing in the second quarter, maintaining an edge all the way until the final 2:42.

But while the Walnut Grove offense — specifically it’s dangerous long-range shooting — found its footing again, the Hornets struggled to get the same kind of looks at the basket or have its shots fall.

Advance shot 53.3 percent (16 of 30) in the first half, but were just 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) in the final two quarter. It finished at 40.4-percent shooting in the game.

Armani Vermillion finished with 25 points for the Hornets, with 18 coming in the first half.

“We were aware of him,” Meinders said. “He had 18 in the first half. We probably better figure him out. But again he got a lot releasing and getting layups. So we talked about that.”

Michael Hood of Advance and Cory Countryman and Logan Thomazin of Walnut Grove fight for the ball during the Class 1 championship game between Advance and Walnut Grove Saturday, March 11, 2017 at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Walnut Grove won 65-62.
Andrew J. Whitaker ~ Southeast Missourian

Hood added a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds and Dawson Mayo had 12 points and nine rebounds, but scored just three points in the second half.

The Hornets outscored the Tigers 24-8 in the paint in the first half, but lost that battle 8-6 in the second half.

“I don't know if we ran the floor like we did, like breaking their press down,” Mayo said. “First half, I thought we broke their press down pretty well and stuff. I mean we had an eight-, 10-point lead on them at one time, and I think that's where they started to catch up. We didn't hit a few baskets and stuff, and I think that's where we need to work the ball out. I mean, I took a couple forced shots that I shouldn't have. I think we stopped playing our game.”

Walnut Grove finished 21 of 55 (38.2 percent), but the critical number was 13 of 34 (38.2 percent) from 3-point range.

Hunter Gilkey had 14 points, nine rebounds, eight steals and seven assists for the Tigers. Thomazin also pulled down 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double.

The two sides traded punches in the first quarter, with Vermillion and Thomazin doing the bulk of the damage for their teams. A 3-pointer from the latter put Walnut Grove up by eight points, 22-14, with 40 seconds left, but Vermillion got three baskets before the quarter was out and the Tigers' edge was 24-20 after 8 minutes.

Advance grabbed momentum in the second quarter, as a Vermillion 3 followed by a Miles layup capped an 18-3 run that swung the game and put the Hornets up by eight, 38-30, with 1:36 left in the period.

Gilkey energized Walnut Grove down the stretch and Dawson Meinders sank a shot from outside the arc with 7 seconds left, slicing Advance’s lead to 42-37 at halftime.

Preston Wuebker of Advance passes the ball during the Class 1 championship game between Advance and Walnut Grove Saturday, March 11, 2017 at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Walnut Grove won 65-62.
Andrew J. Whitaker ~ Southeast Missourian

The Hornets maintained that advantage in the third quarter, leading 54-49 going into the decisive final period.

Miles scored 25 seconds into the fourth to give Advance a 56-49 lead, but Walnut Grove got hot from 3-point range again.

“I told our assistants — we were down five going into the fourth — and we held court the third quarter with Logan (Thomazin) scoring two points,” Meinders said. “I said, 'We're in good shape. Logan scored two points the third quarter and we stayed even.' I kept telling them, ‘We're two shots away. We're two shots away.’”

Thomazin sparked things with a 3 at the 7:09 mark before he hit a contested triple 4 minutes later to pull the Tigers within a possession.

Moments later it was Ryan Keith, who hadn’t hit a shot since the first quarter, knocking one down from long range to tie things at 58 with 2:42 remaining.

That set up a final push that saw Advance unable to get the big play it needed as Thomazin clinched things at the free-throw line for Walnut Grove.

“Hey, you know, you play hard from the start, as hard as these kids play sometimes it just don't go your way,” Wheetley said. “I thought [Walnut Grove] got a few breaks. (It) happens.

“When you get in a game like this, a close game, it's going to come down to who makes free throws, who gets rebounds, who gets a break. They got some breaks, and we didn't hit some big, crucial free throws, either.

“It just all added up to a loss. This is what it is.”

Walnut Grove2413121565
Advance202212862

WALNUT GROVE (65) — Ryan Keith 6, Hunter Gilkey 14, Dawson Meinders 9, Jaron Dishman 5, Logan Thomazin 31. FG 21-55, FT 10-13, F 14. (3-pointers: Thomazin 7-16, Meinders 3-9, Keith 2-8, Gilkey 1-1. Fouled out: None.)

ADVANCE (62) — Armani Vermillion 25, Preston Wuebker 8, Michael Hood 11, Brendan Crader 2, Dawson Mayo 12, Carson Miles 4. FG 23-57. FT 10-16. F 17. (3-pointers: Vermillion 3-7, Wuebker 2-8, Hood 1-6. Fouled out: Hood.)

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