BOWLING GREEN — After Vermilion defeated Buckeye earlier in the postseason, coach Kurt Habermehl talked about how his Sailors always seemed to end up with their backs against the wall early, then fight their way out of trouble.
Vermilion followed the formula again Thursday night, but could not close the deal, dropping a heartbreaker.
Sailors senior Seth Konrad sent the game into overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Norwalk dominated the overtime session and advanced to the Division II regional final with an 87-81 victory at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center.
“I can’t be more proud of my team tonight, my community tonight and our student body tonight,” Habermehl said. “I thought they all stuck together well and it made for a great basketball game. We gave ourselves a chance to win … they were just able to hit the last shots. Somebody had to win this basketball game.”
The Truckers (26-1) used a 19-4 run that closed the first quarter and opened the second to take control. Vermilion senior Forrest Boyd tied the game at 10 with a traditional three-point play at 3:07 of the first quarter, but Norwalk caught fire, hitting nine of its next 10 shots from the floor to take a 29-14 lead at the 5:43 mark of the second period.
Vermilion (19-8) closed the half on an 11-4 run to get back into the game, trailing 39-32 at the half.
“That was huge because we got a little confidence going into the half,” Habermehl said. “I thought early on we were playing too fast and missing some shots. That run in the second half gave us the confidence to be able to come back in the second half.”
In the third quarter Vermilion’s all-time leading scorer came alive. After scoring 10 points in the first half and hitting just one shot from the field, senior Cameron Kuhn exploded for 20 points in the third quarter to keep his team close, then added 11 in the fourth quarter to reel in Norwalk.
“I can’t say enough about his effort tonight,” Habermehl said of Kuhn’s 41 points. “He put us on his back for a while and kept us in it until it was time for some other kids to step up and hit some shots. If you’re going to go out, you might as well go out like he did tonight.”
Vermilion closed to within 71-70 with 4:07 left but could not seem to get over the hump. Every time the Sailors threatened the Truckers would answer.
With 1:20 left in regulation Ben Haraway scored in the paint to give Norwalk a 78-73 lead. Kuhn answered with a putback before, after a Norwalk turnover, Boyd’s layin sliced the Truckers’ lead to a point with 41 seconds showing on the clock.
Norwalk failed to put away the game at the line as Haraway and Breck Turner split pairs of free throws to lift the Norwalk lead to 80-77 with 7.6 seconds left.
After the Sailors called their final timeout to set up a final play, Kuhn inbounded the ball to Boyd on the right wing. Boyd took a dribble and was double-teamed, so he flipped it to Konrad at the top of the key.
Konrad let it fly, banking it in off the glass to tie the game as the horn sounded.
“Coach always talked about us trusting each other,” Konrad said. “Forrest trusted me and I was able to hit the shot. The clock was ticking down and I shot it up there. It went in and got us to overtime.”
Norwalk senior forward Jeff Thomas said the Truckers quickly regrouped.
“You can’t lose your composure during the game,” he said. “Teams, when they’re down, if they lose their composure things break down. We had to keep the team together. Sometimes you get lucky. We didn’t do our jobs that possession and it cost us.
“We’ve been in some pretty bad situations with this team. We know how to control our composure and how to handle it.”
The Sailors took an 81-80 lead at the 2:46 mark of overtime on a Kyle Nader free throw, but the Truckers answered with a 7-0 run that ended the game.
Kuhn finished with a career-high 41. He hit 13 of 22 shots from the floor and connected on 13 of 16 free throws.
“He was unbelievable,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “He reminded me of (former Ohio State player Jon) Diebler, who put up 40 or 50 against us. He was just unbelievable. When you get on a roll that basket starts getting bigger and bigger. The Vermilion kids did a great job and everything revolved around Kuhn and his ability to break us down. He was unbelievable.”
At one point Kuhn scored 15 points in a row for the Sailors.
“I didn’t even know I had 15 points in a row because they all came in the flow of the game,” Kuhn said. “Me scoring those 15 got (Konrad) open to hit his 3-pointers. Then everyone else started hitting. I think that’s what opened it up.”
Konrad added 16 points and Nader 12 points, four assists, two blocks and 11 rebounds.
Thomas paced the Truckers with 32 points and 12 rebounds, while Haraway added 25 points.
“Give credit to Jeff and Ben … they are great players,” Habermehl said. “Steve’s also a very good coach. I hope they go on to win it all because they’re a very good basketball team.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Norwalk 87, Vermilion 81
VERMILION (81): Forrest Boyd 5-1-12, Aaron Dawson 0-0-0, Kyle Nader 5-1-12, Seth Konrad 6-0-16, Cameron Kuhn 13-13-41, Ross Lewis 0-0-0, Alex Nunn 0-0-0, Caleb Waller 0-0-0, Jordan Murray 0-0-0, Ryan Barnes 0-0-0, Garrett Whitely 0-0-0, Nick Prenatt 0-0-0, Ryley Miller 0-0-0. Totals 29-15-81.
NORWALK (87): Ben Haraway 9-7-25, Grant Hull 0-1-1, Jordan Johnson 8-0-16, Jeff Thomas 10-10-32, Breck Turner 2-3-7, Kaleb Cashen 1-0-2, Brandon Bleile 0-0-0, Joseph Hinckley 1-0-2, Jaycee Jordan 0-0-0, Matt Davidson 1-0-2, Garret McFarland 0-0-0. Totals 32-21-87.
Vermilion 12 20 26 22 1 — 81
Norwalk 18 21 26 15 7 — 87
Three-point goals: Vermilion 8-10 (Konrad 4, Kuhn 2, Boyd, Nader), Norwalk 2-8 (Thomas 2). Field goals: Vermilion 29-59 (49.2 percent), Norwalk 32-57 (56.1 percent); Free throws: Vermilion 15-20 (75 percent), Norwalk 21-26 (80-8 percent); Rebounds: Vermilion 31 (Nader 11), Norwalk 32 (Thomas 12). Turnovers: Vermilion 11, Norwalk 8. Total fouls: Vermilion 20, Norwalk 16. Fouled out: None.