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It was a clash of contrasting styles in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic final Saturday night. In the end, No. 7 Notre Dame’s inside power was just enough to ward off No. 25 Niles North’s perimeter speed, as the Dons muscled their way to a thrilling 54-52 victory.
The capacity crowd at Wheeling was treated to the four-day tournament’s best game as it featured two teams deserved of playing for this distinguished championship.
In the final minute, Notre Dame (13-1) had the ball, clinging to a 53-51 lead. Niles North (10-3) forced a Notre Dame turnover and got the ball back. With 20 seconds left, Lorenzo Dillard was fouled, making one of two free throws, cutting the deficit to 53-52. Notre Dame’s Jake Maestranzi was fouled on the Dons’ next possession. He made one of two free throws, setting up a potential game-tying or game-winning shot for the Vikings. Notre Dame cut off all driving lanes for star guard Malachi Nix (17 points) who lost control of the ball, and the Vikings tried to call a time out. The request was not granted, and when Dillard’s desperation shot bounced off the back of the rim, the Dons secured the victory.
“We were looking to get something for Malachi or BJ (Beckford),” Niles North forward Billy Voitik said. “We tried to call a time out. It was not the shot we wanted.”
Notre Dame outrebounded Niles North 24-17. Tournament MVP Matt Mooney had eight rebounds and added 14 points, nine in the second half. The Dons inside game was balanced by the perimeter shooting of all-tournament guard Maestranzi. During a 10-2 Notre Dame run in the third quarter, Maestranzi drained two three-pointers, the second giving the Dons a 49-43 lead with 5:15 left in the fourth.
“We had a great game plan. Everyone did their job,” Maestranzi said, who finished with 12 points. “This was an all-around team win.”