Sam Kilburg has had some very difficult nights at the free throw line this season. The North Scott senior, in fact, had missed 13 of his last 20 tries when he stepped to the foul line with 19 seconds remaining Thursday night and his basketball team trailing by one point.
Kilburg didn’t cave under the pressure.
The 49% foul shooter buried both attempts and North Scott made one last defensive stand to escape with a 44-43 win over Davenport North to clinch at least a share of the Mississippi Athletic Conference title at North High School.
“Sam has been putting a lot of time into these free throws the last couple of weeks,” North Scott coach Shamus Budde said. “Sam is as competitive as they come, so I’m happy for him to see that work pay off.”
North Scott (17-1, 13-0 MAC) had to overcome a late surge from North. The Wildcats trailed 42-36 with less than two minutes to go, but Jayden Houston scored five straight points to bring them with one.
After a North Scott turnover off an inbounds pass, North snatched the lead on a Quincy Wiseman lay-in with 43 seconds left.
But on North Scott’s ensuing possession, Mehki Jacobs fouled Kilburg from outside the 3-point line.
“We got a little rattled that last possession,” North coach Marc Polite said. “Those are things down the stretch we’ve got to be a little smarter. At that point, you just want to lock down and get a stop.”
Kilburg had been held to just eight points at that point.
“It has been my role this year to step up and make big plays down the stretch for us in close games,” Kilburg said, “and free throws are no different. I’ve got to make those for our team to be successful.
“I was able to step up and I was confident in myself.”
For the second time this week, North (12-6, 9-4) had a chance to pull out a win in the final possession against a team in the upper half of the MAC. Just like Monday at Assumption, it didn’t happen.
North Scott defended North’s set play well. It left Jacobs putting up a contested shot and trying to force a foul from just inside the 3-point line but it came up short as time expired.
“It wasn’t pretty, but our guys stayed together for 32 minutes,” Budde said.
North limited Kilburg and Ty Anderson, North Scott’s top two scoring threats, to just 18 points (about half of their season production).
Landon Eiland stepped in with four 3-pointers and a dozen points while Trent Allard had eight points.
“It just shows our depth moving forward,” Eiland said. “All of us have something that can help the squad.”
It is North Scott’s third league championship in a row. The Lancers can claim the title outright with a victory at Muscatine on Friday.
“I’m very proud of these guys,” Budde said. "They've poured a lot of time into this."
Kilburg, though, said North Scott has plenty to clean up between now and the start of the postseason.
“We shouldn’t have blown that lead and we shouldn’t have made the mistakes we did down the stretch,” Kilburg admitted. “We got the desired outcome, but we’re not where we want to be right now.”
Wiseman led North with 14 points while Jacobs had 11 and Houston chipped in 10. The Wildcats stayed in touch despite shooting 12 of 39 from the field.
“We’re fighting to be relevant,” Polite said. “We want to be considered at the top of this league. To do that, we’ve got to do things right, play hard and execute. We did a lot of that tonight, but came up a little short.
“We’re right where I thought we could be at the start of the year.”