McNary defeats South Salem 65-64 in far-from-boring double-overtime finish
1/18/2018 3:46 AM

Jaden Nielsen-Skinner and Chandler Cavell were bored.

It was the third quarter and the two opposing stars were unenthused by the gameplay and environment. It had been a slow first half and, during a free throw break, the rivals discussed the lack of excitement.

“We were like, this is like the most boring game we’ve ever played in,” Nielsen-Skinner said.

That changed quickly. A high-paced third quarter, followed by a neck-and-neck fourth quarter, sent the game to overtime. And then another.

When the final, final buzzer sounded, Cavell’s McNary team had defeated Nielsen-Skinner’s South Salem squad, 65-64 in double overtime. Cavell’s free throw with eight seconds left gave the Celtics the road victory.

“We’re a pretty battle-tested team, we’ve played some tough teams, we’ve played on the road, and our guys are pretty tough both physically and mentally,” McNary coach Ryan Kirch said.

South Salem led 20-19 at halftime, but the third quarter was a frenzy. By the end of it, McNary led 42-40.

The frenzy continued and, midway through the fourth quarter, Cavell buried a corner three over the outstretched hand of Nielsen-Skinner to tie the score at 49-49. The McNary senior then tapped three fingers against his head, as many NBA players do after made three-pointers, and stared directly at Nielsen-Skinner.

The game wasn’t boring anymore.

“That felt great,” Cavell said.

A basket with 1:15 left by McNary sophomore Junior Walling — who’d played in the JV game earlier — gave the Celtics a 53-51 lead that they held until the closing moments. Trailing by two, South Salem senior Tyler Wadleigh was fouled in the act of shooting and went to the line with seven seconds left, making both.

To overtime.

In the first four-minute period, the two teams swapped field goals to make it 57-57, setting up the decisive second OT.

McNary jumped out to a 64-59 lead with 1:30 left. That’s when Nielsen-Skinner hit two free throws and then helped force a steal to give South Salem the ball with 40 seconds left.

Trailing by three, Nielsen-Skinner had no doubt in his mind what he would do. Guarded by Cavell, he toyed with the ball before perfectly executing a step-back three-pointer that ignited the crowd and tied the score.

“That was redemption,” Nielsen-Skinner said, referencing the three-pointer Cavell had hit on him earlier.

On McNary’s final possession, the Celtics worked the ball around and looked into Cavell when Nielsen-Skinner was called for holding the McNary standout with eight seconds remaining.

A sixth man a year ago, Cavell found himself at the line shooting a one-and-one with the game on the line.

Cavell said he’d thought through precisely this scenario all through the preseason. As he headed to the line, he had other thoughts.

“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I might just piss my pants,’” Cavell recalled. “But I got out there and, honestly, I felt pretty good. I was kind of at peace.”

He made the first and missed the second and then, with three fouls to give before the penalty, the Celtics repeatedly fouled Nielsen-Skinner to shrink the clock.

“We wanted to take as much time off the clock as we could because we know if you give (Nielsen-Skinner) the ball with eight seconds left, it might not be a good thing, because he can pretty much score whenever, wherever,” Cavell said.

All South Salem could manage was a half-court heave that missed.

McNary, which graduated all five of last year’s starters, improved to 12-4 overall and 7-1 in the Greater Valley Conference. South Salem fell to 7-7 (3-4).

Cavell led McNary with 20 points and fellow seniors Lucas Garvey and Andrew Jones added 15 and 11, respectively.

Wadleigh led South Salem with 25 points. Nielsen-Skinner finished with 20 points, seven assists and three steals.

The overtime thriller was the latest installment of a number of good matchups between the league foes.

“They don’t really like us. We don’t really like them. It’s just a good rivalry,” Nielsen-Skinner said.

When asked if he’s friends with Cavell, Nielsen-Skinner said: “We’re cool. On the court, no. Off the court, yes.”

The victory continues a surprisingly successful season for the Celtics, who are led by point guard Jones and scoring wings Garvey and Cavell.

“A lot of those guys could’ve played quite a bit on varsity teams last year,” Kirch said, noting that, “Our former players have created a culture.”

The win snapped a six-game losing streak by McNary to South Salem. Part of the Celtics' trouble has been the Saxons’ backcourt.

“They’re both so darn quick,” Kirch said of Wadleigh and Nielsen-Skinner. “They’re a nightmare to match up with.”

Wadleigh, a slight, 5-foot-10 guard, is a wizard with the ball. His fake overhead passes are reminiscent of Larry Bird and he has unlimited range, knocking down three three-pointers Tuesday.

Nielsen-Skinner, who is known exclusively as “Skinny” by those who know him, has a wiry frame that matches his nickname, braces on his teeth, and two Division I scholarship offers: Portland State and Western Carolina.

On Tuesday, he had trouble getting his shots to fall; the rim appeared to have a lid on it. He finished 8 of 22 from the field.

“When you miss shots, you have to have amnesia. And just forget about it, keep shooting your shot,” he said.

The Saxons were scrappy throughout in trying to contain McNary’s long wings and posts (like 6-foot-6 Boston Smith), because of their size. South Salem’s tallest starter is 6-foot-0.

But they don’t use that as an excuse. Earlier this season when a Saxons player complained about being unable to rebound because of his short stature, coach Tyler Allen made the entire team run.

“We set a standard here. It doesn’t matter about your height, it’s all about your heart,” Nielsen-Skinner said.

There was a lot of heart on display, from both teams, in a frantic double-overtime game. What might have been a boring contest for two-and-a-half quarters certainly didn’t end that way.

“It’s exciting,” Nielsen-Skinner said. “I love playing basketball, especially when it’s a close game. I just love playing basketball.”

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