Out of a timeout with :05.5 left in regulation Saturday night, Nolan Ebel heard words of encouragement coming from the stands behind the scorer's table. He wasn't sure if it was his parents that he heard or other fans.
As he walked toward the Carthage end of the court where the Vikings had possession, he confidently and repeatedly nodded his head up and down.
“I was just looking at the crowd and trying to let them know that I have confidence that we're going to win,” said Ebel. “Everyone seemed kind of nervous — not on our team, but the crowd seemed nervous. I was just trying to tell them that we got this and we're going to take care of business.”
Ebel had no doubts and showed it.
The senior guard took an inbounds pass from Pierson Wofford, turned up court and drove all the way to the basket. Weaving through the Red Men defense, he went right at 6-10 center Sean Johnson, getting a highly contested layup to fall that gave the Vikings a 69-68 lead with :00.9 left.
After a timeout, it was fitting that Ebel stole Carthage's inbounds pass near mid-court to secure the victory for the No. 2 nationally-ranked Vikings, who moved to 15-1, 7-0 in CCIW play.
Ebel finished with a team-best 21 points ahead of Brett Benning's 18.
It was just business as usual for Ebel, who has proven to be a go-to guy in late-game situations.
“I thought our best chance was to get Nolan in the open court,” said Giovanine of the last play. “He and Chris Orange are so good in the open court when they get a head of steam up. … Nolan had missed some big shots, but when he had a chance to make a play there, he certainly did.”
The final play was a huge in giving the men's program its 500th victory on its home Carver Center court. With the Red Men (7-9, 2-5 CCIW) providing quite a challenge, it had to be one of the most difficult victories on that path, too.
With Kienan Baltimore scoring 22 of his game-high 30 points in the first half, the Red Men forged a 45-38 halftime lead. With the Vikings going to a zone defense in the second half, Augie was able to work its way back into the game.
Augie's first lead of the second half came at 67-65 with 2:36 left in regulation when Wofford scored his only bucket of the game on a follow of an Orange miss on a fast-break. The Vikings continued to struggle to score against a tenacious Carthage defense with Johnson protecting the rim.
Three Johnson free throws in the final 1:15 left Augie trailing 68-67 ahead of Ebel's latest heroics.
“Carthage has great individual players that they use really well,” said Giovanine. “I told our guys 'you're not always going to play your best every night.' To not play great and still find a way to win is a great feeling. I'm really proud of our guys.”