By Mike Monahan
NEOGA — In a non-conference boys basketball game, Neoga went the final 5:59 of regulation without scoring as Red Hill tallied the final 7, forcing overtime. Neoga freshman Reece Johnson, who entered the game with an average of 12 points per game, hit a 3-pointer with 1:09 left to give the Indians a 50-49 lead. Neoga never trailed again and Jackson Clark made three free throws in the final 46 seconds as the Indians held on for a thrilling 53-51 victory.
Red Hill, a member of the Little Illini Conference, made the hour-and-a-half trip to Neoga, a member of the National Trail Conference, and scored first in the overtime on a layup by Corbin Shoulders.
Johnson tied his season-high with 20 points and was 4-of-6 from the field in the final 20 minutes, including going 2-for-3 from beyond the 3-point line.
"In the second half, I thought we did a better job in our half-court set offensively, " said Neoga coach Bob Lockart. "I thought we had enough long possessions of execution and got the ball in the bucket consistently until the fourth quarter. I thought our zone, especially in the second half controlled them and slowed it down a little bit."
Neoga led by as much as eight on a bucket by Layne Andrews for a 43-35 lead with 33 seconds left. He scored off an assist from Johnson. The Indians came out on fire in the second half, making their first 5 before the only miss with 1:53 left in the quarter. Neoga was 7-of-8 in the quarter and finished 10-of-20 in the final 20 minutes, including 3-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line.
Both teams shot free throws well in the first half, but not so in the second half. The Indians were 14-of-24 for the game compared to 12-of-21 for the Salukis.
Neoga got a good look at the end of regulation, but the ball rolled off the rim, while the Salukis had a shot to win it in overtime and the shot bounced off the rim.
"We made just enough free throws," said Lockart. "I can't say enough about how competitive we were for 36 minutes tonight. We were tremendously competitive, and that is something we have just hung our hat on. I am really proud of them and I hope that this is a game that can keep us in that mindset."
In the first quarter, Red Hill's Drew Moore scored all 17 Saluki points against Neoga's man-to-man which switched to a 2-3 zone halfway through the period. Moore had 19 points at halftime, making 7-of-9 field goal attempts, including 3-of-5 from beyond the 3-point line. The game was tied six times in the opening half, including at the break on a putback by Neoga's Mitchell Cornell. The largest lead was five points by Red Hill on two occasions in the first half, including 22-17 with 4:18 remaining in the half.
"In the first quarter we just couldn't find him in man or zone," said Lockart. "We had not seen them and were not familiar with them, but he is an excellent offensive player and he didn't miss anything early. I thought the rest of the night (Moore finished with a game-high 25 points) our zone kept him down a little bit. We also slowed the game down. I kept telling the kids that there was way too many possessions in that first quarter, and I just didn't think we would be able to run up and down the floor with them all night long."
With the win, Neoga has the most wins it has had in a single season since 2012-13 when Clay Haurberg, current Clinton coach, guided the Indians to an 11-18 season. Neoga is hoping for its first winning season since Jason Hanson (current Teutopolis coach) led them to a 17-13 Class 1A regional title in 2010-11, which was also the last time Neoga placed third in the NTC Tournament.
Neoga, 11-10, is to return to NTC action Tuesday at Altamont. Red Hill fell to 8-12.