JAMESTOWN — With six seconds left in overtime and the score tied at 83-83, the Valley City State University mens basketball team had an inbounds play set under their own basket at the Jamestown Civic Center Wednesday.
But when the Vikings noticed that Jamestown College forward Travis Burley was playing in the backcourt, rather than up front trying for a steal, VCSU guard A.J. McDonald took advantage of the situation.
"I went up and I got the ball, and I just cleared the floor," McDonald said. "I told (my teammates) I was feeling it, so just give it to me and they trusted me."
The trust paid off quickly as McDonald zipped past mid-court, stopped about two feet beyond the 3-point line and sunk a long jump shot as time expired.
The shot clinched an 86-83 upset for the Vikings over the seventh ranked team in the country, on the road in front of a loud rival crowd.
"When A.J. has the ball there, I'm really comfortable because he doesn't have to think about what decision to make, he just needs to be a player and make a play," VCSU coach Jeff Kaminsky said. "I'd rather see him use his quickness and get to the basket, but they just backed off him and he made a great decision there,"
Not to mention that the shot gave McDonald a moment of redemption.
Five minutes of play prior to his game winner, with 16 seconds left in regulation, McDonald was in the same position- bringing the ball up court following an inbounds play.
Once he got past half court, things didn't pan out for the Vikings' original play, so McDonald drove the ball towards the right side of the post, briefly stumbled and had his potential game winner blocked by Mark Hoge. It ended regulation in a 72-72 tie.
"We had talked about trying to get the ball to Sekani there and we failed miserably," Kaminsky said. "Our back up plan was to have A.J. come off a screen there and he ended up improvising."
But McDonald's teammates didn't let him get down over it.
"They just said don't worry about it, keep playing," he said. "They put their trust in me.
"I felt like I should have scored in that last play in regulation, but I didn't so I felt like I had to pick it up in overtime."
It was the overtime period where he made his mark.
Less than 30 seconds in, he drove in for a layup and picked up a free throw on a foul by Hoge. Another 30 second later he hit another layup to make the score 77-74. Then, with 24.4 seconds left and the game tied at 81, he hit a third layup.
He finished the overtime period with 10 of the team's 14 points. The other four were on free throws by Milligen.
But early on, the game didn't appear to be as close.
Jamestown jumped out to an early lead, but VCSU whittled it down to 29-24 with about four minutes left.
Then, in the final three and a half minutes of the first half, VCSU caught fire. John Raquel hit a 3-pointer to make it 29-27. After two free throws by Jamestown, Sekani Milligen hit two straight 3's to take a 33-31 lead.
Milligen then hit one of two at the free-throw line, but on the miss, VCSU's Dillan Ostrom immediately rebounded it and put it back for two. Milligen then hit another 3-pointer to give the Vikings a 39-34 lead going into halftime.
"Towards the end of the first half I really liked our play," Kaminsky said. "We started taking control of the game."
Kaminsky then challenged his team to respond directly out of halftime, and they did.
The Jimmies didn't hit a shot from the floor until four minutes into the half and VCSU started to run away with it. Five minutes into the half, Malcolm McDonald ended the Vikings' opening run with a second-chance layup to make it 56-37.
The rest of the half, the Jimmies clamped down defensively and scrapped together points to narrow Valley City's lead to three with two minutes left. VCSU held the lead up until the final 17 seconds, when Jamestown's B.J. Mertens hit a 3-pointer to tie it 72-72.
"You have to give Jamestown a lot of credit. They're a really good basketball team and really solid," Kaminsky said.
Kaminsky said part of the problem was "human nature", which caused the team to ease up slightly with the large lead.
Milligen led VCSU in scoring with 26 points and A.J. McDonald finished with 20. Raquel had 16 points and Sylvester Walker had 10.
Jamestown finished balanced in scoring with six men hitting double figures.
Mark Hoge led the Jimmies with 18, Byron Jones had 15, and the trio of Burley, Brandon Robbins and Mertens had 12 each.
Though the win was against a top-10 opponent on the road, Kaminsky dismissed its importance and emphasized the final four games of the regular season, which includes a Saturday afternoon game against Mayville State and a home rematch with Jamestown Wednesday.
"We still have a lot to prove and I'm looking forward to the next four games," he said.