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Metea Valley's Trayvond Taylor (left) and Bartlett's Jon Moss battle for a loose ball during Friday's game in Aurora. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Whether its end-of-practice running or the game’s outcome on the line, it appears Bartlett’s Jon Moss is money.
“We have a free-throw shooting drill at the end of a lot of practices where they have to make so many in a row or run sprints,” Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith said. “(Moss) is always the last shooter and he hasn’t failed them yet.”
He did it again Friday, sinking a pair of clutch free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining to account for the final margin in Bartlett’s 40-37 win in a seesaw affair at Metea Valley.
It was a battle for second place in the Upstate Eight Valley that started one-sided and became a nail-biter that went down to the final possession. The Hawks, who got a game-high 18 points from Lance Whitaker, climb to 8-3 overall and 5-1 in the league and drop the host Mustangs to 6-5 overall and 4-2 in the conference.
Whitaker, the Illinois-Chicago recruit, impressed early by scoring 10 points in the first quarter when the visitors jumped to a 19-8 lead.
“Bartlett came ready to play,” Metea Valley coach Bob Vozza said. “We had a good first minute but then they took it to us.”
Vozza turned to reserves 6-foot-9 Hayden Barnard, Devin Flowers, Derek Coleman, Nick Dodson and Conner Archey, and the Mustang bench mob turned up the pressure on the Hawks and put together a 13-2 advantage in the second quarter.
They held Bartlett scoreless over the final seven minutes of the period and it was tied 21-all at half, thanks in large part to six points and a pair of assists from Barnard.
“The sad thing is we did the exact same thing with Waubonsie Valley,” Wolfsmith said. “We were up 19-2 after one in that one and trailed 23-22 at the half. They increased the pressure and got on a roll.”
Metea Valley opened the second half with the same group and led 31-27 entering the fourth before Bartlett settled down.
Moss, who finished with nine points, sank a 15-footer with 1:02 remaining to give his team the lead for good at 38-36 and set the stage for the tense finish.
Metea Valley’s Sean Davis made one of two free throws with 44 seconds remaining after drawing Whitaker’s fifth foul.
“At one point we would have been worried about losing Whitaker but we had it happen in double overtime against Wheaton Academy and triple overtime against Waubonsie Valley,” Wolfsmith said. “We’ve got two good guards in Moss and Marcus (Aluquin) who can handle the pressure.”
Maybe, but the Mustangs’ Bryson Oliver stole the ball with 29 seconds remaining. Bartlett made a nice defensive stand, though, forcing a contested 18-footer from Oliver that sailed out of bounds and set the stage for the late heroics from Moss.
“I was just trying to calm down and do what I do in practice,” the senior guard said.
Melvin Meeks had eight of his team-high 10 points in the first quarter for Metea Valley, which got eight points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocked shots from Barnard.
“Our bench had great energy and got us back into the game at halftime,” Vozza said. “We talked about coming out with the same intensity and I thought those guys did. But you gotta give Bartlett credit at the end. I thought they had a little bit more composure. We had times we could have taken the lead, but they did things we weren’t able to get done.”