This was more than a game to Ottawa.
So says Andrew Bacon, who drained the game-winning basket from about a foot inside the free-throw line with 2.6 seconds remaining to give the Pirates a 53-51 upset victory over top-seeded United Township in a Class 4A regional semifinal Tuesday at the Panther Den.
The Ottawa boys basketball team left town around 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, beating a severe storm and tornado that left one confirmed dead in its home town.
It was raining so hard very early during the trip for a brief while you could not see outside the bus, Bacon said. But then it cleared and Ottawa had no trouble the rest of the way en route to East Moline.
But by the time they arrived in the 90-minute or so drive, they knew it was not good back home. The other fan buses had stayed back, that much was known.
“We have no idea what everything is like because we didn’t get to see it,” Bacon said. “As soon as we left, there was a ton of rain. It was kind of scary.”
Against that memory, the seventh-seeded Pirates played with emotion all night, said Bacon, who finished with 12 points. United Township trailed almost the entire game on its home court but had scored 12 straight to tie it up, the last on a Tray Buchanan free throw with 58.2 seconds left.
As it had all night, Ottawa (21-7) dug deep one more time.
“That’s all his (coach Mark Cooper’s) speeches were before the game saying how it’s us against everything,” Bacon said. “This is for the people and everything. So it means a lot to us.”
Cooper became emotional in a post-game interview after first explaining his team was not stalling with 46 seconds remaining. The Pirates dribbled and tossed it around out front until Bacon made a move with 7.2 seconds left, split two defenders near the foul line and fired up an open jumper from 14 feet for the win.
“We talked about with (46.5) seconds to go we were going to take the first best available shot,” Cooper said. “Then all of a sudden we were able to move it a little bit, get spaced. We practice what we want to do for end-of-game situations.
“Our guys executed what we want to do and Andrew made a shot.”
The Pirates will now play Friday at United Township against the winner of the Rock Island-Moline game, which takes place Wednesday at the Panther Den. The winner Friday advances to the Ottawa sectional.
Ottawa had built a double-digit lead throughout the game on the strength of forward McKe Tucker’s inside moves and quickness, which resulted in 18 points, along with Bacon’s all-around game (12 points) and Wyatt Hill’s trio of three treys for nine points. Mix in eight points from power forward Eric Fox and Ottawa looked to be in good shape, first up 18-10 after one, then 32-19 at half and 51-39 early in the fourth quarter.
But Buchanan, as he has done so many times during his all-state career, led the Panthers back. He scored on a drive and two 3-pointers sandwiched around teammate Cazjon Barajas' 3 with Buchanan ending the run making one of two free throws for a tie score with 58.2 seconds left. Ottawa rebounded off his miss, then cleared it and called timeout for the game’s biggest play.
UT (22-7) which finished losing five of its last 10 games, played without normal starters De’Ante Walker and Thomas Hughes. Coach Ryan Webber would not comment on their absences as neither player dressed.
“Our kids just battled,” Webber said. “They showed tremendous fight, tremendous heart. Our kids should be commended for the job that they did, just battling.”
“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way,” said Buchanan, who finished with 26 points. “It was a privilege playing here. I felt like we were in it the whole game. It’s just one last-second play they got us.”
UT did inbound the ball after a timeout but threw it away to Hill.
The Pirates hope the win gives the community back home something to be proud of after the storm.
“This win tonight isn’t going to put our community back together overnight or bring back any (body) …” Cooper said, fighting his emotions, “but at least for a small period of time here, our guys are able to give our community something to be proud of.”