kid who has ever picked up a basketball has done. The jump shot, going
through the net as the final buzzer sounds, to win a championship. Paulk got the chance and delivered Friday. Paulk's game-winner lifted Kent to a thrilling 71-69 win over Norton and a share of the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division Championship.
Paulk just never imagined he'd get to take the shot. And when Kent Roosevelt's 6-foot-3 junior swingman did, though it was as pure as a still pond, he didn't think it was going in.
Paulk's jump shot from just beyond the foul line did go in. It gently passed through the net as time expired Friday night and lifted Kent to a thrilling 71-69 win over Norton. The victory guarantees the Roughriders at least a share of the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division Championship. With one game left, Kent (15-3 overall) is 12-1 in the PTC. Norton (15-3) is one game behind.
The Roughriders' only remaining game is next Friday against Mogadore Field, which lost to Roosevelt in the first time through the league by 35 points.
“When the game is on the line, nine, ten seconds to go, I thought I've got to take this shot,” said Paulk, who finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting. “I never thought it would be like that. As a kid, you always think you're going to get that good shot. I pulled up on it a little bit and when I shot it I didn't think it was going to go in.”
Norton coach Russ Swartz tipped his hat to Paulk for making an athletic play at crunch time.
“He just shot it up over us,” he said. “There's nothing we could do. We played good defense. He went over our best jumped and knocked it in.”
That Kent was even in position to get an attempt at a game-winner was improbable at best, with the way things went for the first 28 minutes or so. Up until that point, the Panthers out-hustled, out-shot, out-rebounded, out-scrapped and generally out-played the larger, much more athletic Roughriders.
But the Panthers, who led 62-62 with four minutes left, couldn't close it out, particularly at the foul line. Over the final four minutes, they made just 3 of 13 free throws. Those misses include the front and of a one-and-one, two misses on intentional free throws, and a pair of misses with less than 20 seconds left in a tie game.
“We're shooting 68 to 70 percent coming in,” Norton coach Russ Swartz said. “That's just not common for us. We're better free throw shooters than that. That obviously killed us, turnovers killed us. It was just a variety of things.”
Kent took advantage of Norton's free throw struggles, making 6 of 9 shots down the stretch and 4 of 7 foul shots of their own. Paulk scored nine of his points in the final four minutes.
But while Paulk's game-winner will be remembered, it was the contributions of a little-used senior who saved the day and probably the season for Kent.
Guard Jimmy Entler came off the bench in the final minutes to do one thing: Shoot 3-pointers. The 5-9 guard attempted two and canned both. The second tied the score at 69 with 32 seconds left.
“That's Jimmy, that's just Jimmy,” Kent coach Cameron Black said. “We know Jimmy's got the ability. He's been our shooter all year. He hasn't had a lot of playing time throughout the year, but he seems to do that every year at some point.”
Over the next 15 seconds or so, Norton missed a pair of free throws and an open lay-up, setting up Paulk's big shot.
Early on and through out most of the first 31⁄2 quarters, Norton controlled things. The Panthers led 25-20 after a period and 38-30 at halftime.
Kent rallied in the first two minutes of the second half to tie the game at 40, but Norton answered that with a 9-1 spurt of its own and eventually led 51-45 after three quarters.
A three-point play by Cody Howe (13 points, 7 rebounds) gave Norton a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Another three-point play, this by Justin Emerick (14 points), pushed Norton's lead to 62-52.
Moments later, Kevin Haramis was fouled and had a chance to extend the lead with four minutes left. The senior missed the front end of the one-and-one, opening the door for Kent's comeback.
The Panthers were hurt when they lost Brandon Farmer (15 points) and Haramis (11 points, 6 assists) within a 16-second span with about two minutes left. Moments after Farmer fouled out, Haramis was lost after being fouled hard on a drive and coming down awkwardly on his ankle.
“Kevin being injured, Brandon fouling out and Tim (Plouse) being in foul trouble, those three guys being out for whatever reason, obviously hurt us,” Swartz said. “Free throw shooting obviously killed us, but if those guys aren't on the bench for whatever reason, things are different as well.”
The loss spoiled an outstanding game by Plouse, who scored 15 points and had six assists. Plouse's two free throws with 39 seconds left gave Norton its last lead.
Kent got solid games from sophomore point guard Denerio Bryant (10 points, 4 assists), senior guard Bobby Keener (4 points, 6 assists) and senior post Chris Hadkins (8 points, 8 rebounds)
The game was the most anticipated in Norton in at least 10 years, going back to the last time the Panthers were competitive in the Suburban League, which they left three years ago. Fans were lined up outside the door prior to the start of the junior varsity game and many were turned away as the game sold out.