Lumberjacks refuse to give in

TUPPER LAKE – Eddie Bortnick had a chance to extend Canton’s slim lead at the foul line with 10 seconds left and his team up by a basket Monday night.

But Tupper Lake’s Mitch Keniston had other plans. He wanted to send the game to overtime, and that’s exactly what he did.

After Bortnick missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Keniston grabbed the rebound and made a desperate dash for the other end of the court. Dribbling around defenders and teammates alike, Keniston took the ball coast-to-coast, making a twisting layup over an outstretched defender to tie the game at 47 with two seconds left.

“I knew I had to take control of the game,” said Keniston, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “We were down by two, and the game wasn’t ending like that.”

Five minutes later, after one overtime, the Lumberjacks found themselves with an improbable 57-52 victory against their Section X, Class C opponent. With the win, Tupper Lake improved to 7-6 while Canton fell to 4-6.

It was the second time in a week the Lumberjacks pulled off an overtime win that featured Keniston hitting a dramatic layup. The first came last Wednesday against Madrid-Waddington when Keniston hit a layup to tie the game with one second left in overtime. The Lumberjacks won that game 62-57 in double overtime after the junior center scored seven points in the final stanza.

What made Monday’s win strange and improbable was that Tupper Lake held a lead for less than a minute in the first four quarters. The only time the Lumberjacks held a lead in regulation came just a minute into the game when Lumberjacks forward Nash Botala hit a layup to give his team a 2-1 advantage.

But that short-lived Tupper Lake lead was quickly erased by Canton when forward Evan LaPoint hit the first of back-to-back layups in the midst of a 12-2 Canton run to open the game.

The next time Tupper Lake pulled ahead was with two minutes and four seconds left in overtime when forward Nick Dukette hit a foul shot to give his team a 48-47 advantage, a lead it would hold until the end.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Canton coach Bill Porter said. “They hung in there. The Keniston kid put his team on his shoulders and made some big shots.”

Lumberjacks coach Steve Skiff said the key to the second-half comeback was not turning the ball over on offense and playing good defense. That allowed the Lumberjacks to gain steam late in the second half.

“Basketball is a game of momentum swings,” Skiff said. “Sometimes it’s amazing, you get a run going, you get that momentum. It’s not just the scoring, it’s your defense picks up. You can see that elevated excitement level. Then all the sudden something happens, a steal or something. It can change it just like that.”

For most of the first three quarters, the majority of momentum was in Canton’s favor. Then with two minutes left in third quarter, a few plays went in favor of Tupper Lake, swinging the momentum back to the Lumberjacks, whose defense had picked up in the second half.

The first break came when Canton’s leading scorer in the game, Bryant Wentworth, picked up his third foul with 1:49 left, putting him in foul trouble for the rest of the game. Wentworth, who fouled out in overtime, had 14 of his 17 points at that point. He finished the game tied with Bortnick for most points on his team.

Wentworth’s foul was followed about a minute later by a big play from Tupper Lake’s Anson Gagnier, who hit a jumper from the foul line after rebounding his missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

To cap off the series, Tupper Lake’s Brock Tarbox (14 points) stole a pass and went the length of the court for a layup with just five seconds left in the quarter. That made the score 38-31 in favor of Canton.

Those two baskets were big because instead of heading into the fourth quarter with a double digit deficit, Tupper Lake was down a manageable seven points. The Lumberjacks made up that difference by outscoring their opponent 16-9 in the final eight minutes.

That late-game run included scoring the final six points of the game. The first of those points came when Keniston picked up a steal and then coasted for a layup. Tarbox followed that by nailing a pair of free throws to set up Keniston’s layup with two seconds left.

Much of that momentum was due to Tupper Lake playing hard-nose defense. That helped them create turnovers that turned into scoring opportunities. Canton also didn’t help their case by appearing to play on their heels for much of the fourth quarter and overtime.

“To come here and be in a close game, it’s a little new for this team,” Porter said. “We didn’t know how to step up and handle that. I think later in the game, it was easy as the ship was sailing smooth, so to speak, in the first half. But then the rough waters sort of got us in the second half. The pressure got to us a little bit. We weren’t able to score, and I think that was the difference.”

That and the fact that Tupper Lake just doesn’t seem to want to give in at home lately.

“I’m just really proud of the way we didn’t quit,” Skiff said.