AUBURN — Hobbled from a hard-fought first 31 minutes of the game, RJ Nichols stepped to the foul line with a chance to put his team’s rival out of reach in the final game of his high school basketball career.

The Edward Little senior sank both free throws, then affected a pair of missed Lewiston 3-point attempts in the final seconds to help secure a 54-50 Red Eddies victory Friday night.

After the game, Nichols received the Gordon “John” Gillette Award, given to the most outstanding player in the Edward Little boys basketball team’s home game against Lewiston each season. It wasn’t only Nichols’ game-high 16 points that made him the easy choice, but that he did it while dealing with a tweaked back and dead legs from a few collisions during the intense rivalry showdown.

“He’s not the biggest kid in the world, but he’s got a big heart. And I think that motivates everybody else to just play harder,” Edward Little coach Mike Adams said.

Nichols was fouled with 16.7 seconds left and went to the line for a one-and-one, with the Red Eddies clinging to a 52-50 lead.

“Right before that I got hit in the shin,” Nichols said. “I just had to put it beside me and knock down the two shots.”

The back-and-forth game was tied 50-50 with under two minutes to play when EL junior center John Shea went coast to coast for the go-ahead layup. Normally a force down low, Shea needed to adjust his game in the fourth. Earlier in the quarter he drained both a baseline jumper and a long 2-pointer. He finished with 14 points in the game.

Lewiston’s Yusuf Dakane drives to the basket as Edward Little’s John Shea tries to deny him during the first half of Friday night’s game in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“John stepping out, he’s a good midrange shooter,” Adams said. “But when you have a 6-8, 7-foot wingspan guy (in Chiwer Mayen) guarding you, (playing down low) is a little bit tougher. But I thought John played well. I thought we got the ball to him in good spots.”

Nichols’ spot was behind the 3-point line, where he connected four times in the game, including twice in the second quarter when he scored eight of his points to help the Red Eddies outscore the Blue Devils by eight points, and go from 17-13 down to ahead 32-28 at halftime.

“(Lewiston is) better athletically, but we really thought if we did what we do offensively, with moving the ball, and defending physical and hard and good in the quarter-court, that we could make it a better game,” Adams said. “And they did a much better job as the game went of doing those things.”

Added Nichols: “We knew that they were going to go on runs, we were going to go on runs, we just had to keep our cool and not get down on ourselves, and keep our heads up and push through it.”

Lewiston went on a 9-0 run after Shea started the game’s scoring with two free throws. EL answered with an 11-0 run, but the Blue Devils finished out the first quarter on an 8-0 run.

“You know, when things are easy and shots are going in, yeah, it’s easy to be engaged and excited. But what happens when you don’t make shots, or the other team is making shots, what type of choices are you going to make?” Lewiston coach Ronnie Turner said. “And I think we made the right choices. A few plays here and there that got away from us, but overall I think we showed when adversity hits we’ll compete, we’ll keep competing, we’ll stay engaged and we’ll try everything in our power to do whatever they feel is necessary to do.”

Edward Little took a one-point lead into the fourth, then got a 3 from senior guard Tyson Green (seven points) and a layup from senior forward Tong Maiwen (four points) to go up 46-40. A layup by Lewiston’s Yusuf Dakane (eight points) and a David Omasombo 3 cut EL’s lead back down to one point.

Shea’s outside shots a minute part stretched it to 50-45, but a jumper by Omasombo (team-high 12 points) and a Garrett Mack 3 tied it at 50-50 with less than three minutes left.

“Garrett Mack, he’s a senior, he’s never hit a 3 with me. I actually coached him when he was a freshman,” Turner said. “And last year he got a little mad at me because in practice he kept shooting 3s, and I asked him, I said, ‘Garrett, how many 3s have you hit on a varsity floor?’ He said zero. So I’m like, ‘Oh, so why are you shooting them?’ And then he finally got one to go. It was a really, really good moment. I’m happy he has that memory.”

Nichols said the Red Eddies looked at Wednesday’s win against Leavitt and Friday’s matchup with Lewiston as playoff games, both because they were EL’s final games of the season and they were against teams the Red Eddies lost to earlier in the year. Friday’s finale was their state championship game, he said. It also was a matchup the Red Eddies had been looking forward to all season.

“It was pretty cool because we lost to them our first game, so we had a whole season preparing for each team we played, but also knowing in the back of our minds that we had them on March 12,” he said. “We had this date circled since the first game that we lost to them.”

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