If the hoop deities owed anybody friendly skies at the horn, followed by a furious celebration, however, Ian Mileikis was a perfect choice.
Mileikis, who watched most of his junior season from the bench while recovering from a broken foot, buried a 25-footer as time expired to give the Red Eddies a 62-61 win over the Vikings.
“We were down two and the time was ticking, and I felt open. I felt confident. Being hurt and not playing all last season, battling back, I think that was my shot,” Mileikis said. “It was a long journey getting back, but I’ve just been lifting and playing every day. I wanted this one bad. I’ve been dreaming about that one.”
It was billed as a showdown between two of top three teams in the KVAC, featuring at least four of the league’s premier individual talents, and nobody left feeling cheated by the admission price.
Oxford Hills rallied from a 15-point deficit early in the third quarter on the shoulders of Andrew Fleming. The 6-foot-6 junior scored a game-high 27 points — including 10 in the fourth period — and locked up 18 rebounds.
“We wanted to see where we measured up. We didn’t know. I’ve got seven JV guys on my team from last year. At halftime we were down 10 and we talked about that. ‘Are we ready to compete in this league?’ Second half, I guess we are,” Oxford Hills coach Scott Graffam said. “We did a good job. We went after them. Andrew showed why he’s a Division I scholarship contender.”
After the Vikings drained most of the final minute from the clock, calling two timeouts to discuss the situation, Fleming was fouled and sank both halves of the double bonus for a 61-59 lead with 7.6 seconds left.
EL elected not to stop the clock, pushing the ball up court with high-octane abandon. Mileikis — who nailed one earlier from NBA range to tie it at 55 — found himself open beyond the top of the key and let it fly.
“Nobody deserves it more than him,” EL coach Mike Adams said. “Before Oxford Hills scored, we said if they score, we’re not going to call timeout. We’re going to push it down as far as we can until we get a good shot. Ian, he can shoot that. Everyone thinks he’s just penetrating.”
Mileikis scored 9 of his 19 points in the final 4:38. Lew Jensen also knocked down 7 of his 13 in the fourth. Elijah Roe added 13 points for the Eddies.
Tyus Ripley registered 13 for the Vikings, who received a huge lift from a flurry of first-year varsity players in the second half. Jake Yates notched eight points and seven rebounds, all offensive, all after intermission. Point guard Blake Slicer made three steals.
“We played about as well as we could in the second half. We had a few letdowns where we gave up wide-open 3s, and that was the difference,” Graffam said. “It’s a lesson learned. We’ve got to pick up their shooter.”
EL never trailed until the fourth quarter, when Patrick Macro’s bucket in the first minute made it 47-46 to furnish the first of six lead changes down the stretch.
Twelve offensive boards for Oxford Hills and six turnovers by EL constructed the foundation for that furious finish in the third quarter. The Eddies led 42-27 with 5:24 to go in that period before Yates and Slicer combined for five points in a 23-second span.
Jensen spent the final three minutes on the bench after picking up his fourth foul, and Yates and Fleming combined for 15 points during a 21-4 run that bridged the quarters.
“That’s what they’re known for is being physical and strong, and they were killing us on the glass,” Adams said. “If you give a kid like Fleming more than one chance to score, he’s going to score. He’s too good.”
“They made a run,” Mileikis added. “We had a lot of one-and-dones. I don’t think we were getting the best shot we could find. We could have held onto the ball a little better and looked for the best shot more.”
Oxford Hills took its largest lead at 53-49 on a rebound and coast-to-coast journey by Fleming. Mileikis answered with a hoop down low, then a steal and one of two free throws.
Jensen’s 3-pointer retrieved the advantage for EL, 59-58, with 2:20 to go. Fleming tied it by swishing the second of his two tries from the line at the 1:43 mark.
Fleming scored the final 10 points for Oxford Hills.
EL held Fleming to 10 in the first half while getting points from eight different players. Jarod Norcross-Plourde and Thomas Cedre accounted for a 6-0 surge in the final 45 seconds to produce a 35-25 cushion.
“We’ve had a hell of a time winning here since 2004,” Graffam said. “We’ve had some good battles with them. We had our chances tonight.”
Adams said his tendency not to call the timeout at the finish stemmed from a playoff game six years ago when EL trailed Messalonskee by 12 in the second half and stormed back to win in the closing seconds.
“A week and a half ago, Kyle Philbrook came in and told that story,” Adams said. “They heard the story about how Kyle was a legend, that team was a legend, and now they put their own little story together.”