Canton South held on to beat Carrollton 69-66 and claim at least a share of their first Northeastern Buckeye Conference title since 2003 when they went to the Division II state tournament.
This was the way to win a league championship.
Canton South’s formula Friday night was to never lose composure, battle from behind and never flinch when its piece of the title was slipping away.
The Wildcats held on to beat Carrollton 69-66 and claim at least a share of their first Northeastern Buckeye Conference title since 2003 when they went to the Division II state tournament.
South (18-2, 11-2) can win the title outright with a victory over Alliance next week or if the Aviators lose tonight at Minerva and Marlington loses one of its final two league games. Alliance also still is in position to earn a share of the title.
South rallied from a seven-point, third-quarter deficit then was forced to hold on in the final minute when the Warriors cut the Wildcats’ eight-point lead to one.
While protecting a three-point lead in the final seconds, South’s Josh Lyon forced a missed 3 from the left wing. The Wildcats breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated.
“It feels great to win the NBC because we’ve wanted it all year,” South senior forward Jason Merriweather said. “We’ve been looking forward to it.
“It has been a hard season. We had a lot of goals, and that’s one of them. We’ve got more to come.”
Armand Fontes poured in 21 points to lead a balanced South attack. He scored 11 in the third quarter when the Wildcats wiped out a seven-point deficit and grabbed a 53-51 lead.
Merriweather stepped up in the fourth quarter. He hit a 3 to give South the lead for good and scored seven of his 11 points in the period. The 3 started a decisive 11-2 Wildcats run.
“I felt like right there is the perfect time to shoot,” Merriweather said.
Merriweather also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. It was a complete night from South’s sixth man.
“The energy he brings on is amazing,” Wildcats head coach Frank Spotleson said. “He accepted that role as a sixth man coming off the bench. ... The guys all rally around him. He’s just 100 percent every time he’s out there on the floor. It really inspires us to just step right up and play right along with him.”
The Wildcats appeared in control when they led 66-58. Zade Deitz hit a 3 to get Carrollton within seven.
South then struggled to put the Warriors away from the foul line. The Wildcats missed three of their next four free throws.
A Stephen Ericksen layup and Andrew Collins 3 helped Carrollton cut the Wildcats’ lead to 67-66 with 10.5 seconds left. South’s Kyle Deckerd was fouled and hit a pair of free throws with 9.2 seconds left to make it 69-66.
Page 2 of 2 - A few anxious seconds later, a piece of the NBC title was South’s.
“That was a great way to win,” Spotleson said.
Deckerd finished with 13 points for the Wildcats. Trey Taylor added 10.
Collins hit a Carrollton single-game record six 3s and finished with a team-high 21 points. Dietz added 19 points, while Ericksen finished with 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Ericksen scored his 1,000th career point early in the fourth quarter.