Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Sunday, March 15, 1998.
By Bob Larson
For the Mirror
INDIANA — At basketball playoff time, some of the most unlikely heroes emerge. Enter Jeremy Little.
The seldom-used junior guard only play 24 minutes during the regular season, but he hit what will be one of the most memorable shots in Altoona Mountain Lion history Saturday night at the IUP Memorial Field House.
Little’s baseline 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left gave Altoona an improbable 71-69 victory over Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the PIAA quarterfinals. The Mountain Lions will now move on to face New Castle in the PIAA western final on Wednesday.
“I would just like to thank God for letting the shot go in,’’ Little said. “I thought (Mike) Carney was going to let it go because he has hit so many big shots for us. It feels good to be able to give this team and the seniors at least one more game to play.’’
Altoona scored the game’s first basket but would not lead again until Little’s heroics. The Mountain Lions trailed by as many as 14 points, 53-39, in the third, and they were still down by 10 in the fourth, 63-53, with just over 4:00 remaining.
“We proved tonight we aren’t quitters,’’ Altoona coach Art Taneyhill said. “Two or three times it looked like we were on the verge of being blown out, but we never quit.’’
Altoona turned the ball over 14 times in the first half, nine in the second quarter, and Central Catholic opened up a 14-4 lead. Altoona would pull to within two at the half, 34-32, but watched the Vikings drain three third-quarter 3-pointers to nearly pull away.
“We knew they had some shooters, but some of their kids surprised me,’’ Taneyhill said. “So we had to go back and tighten up our defense. They didn’t handle our pressure very well and it brought us back. It was critical down the stretch.’’
With Altoona down 67-61, Aaron Morris, who finished with a game-high 24 points, scored and then fed Todd Johnson, who added 21, to pull the Mountain Lions to within two, 67-65, with 56 seconds left.
Central Catholic point guard Mike Cale kept the ball on a 2-on-1 and finished with a layup and was fouled. Cale missed the free throw and Matt Durbin quickly scored at the other end. After a Central Catholic turnover, Johnson was fouled with 22 seconds left. Johnson hit the first free throw, missed the second, but on the scrum for the loose ball Cale lost it out of bounds to Altoona.
“I heard Cale was tossed to the ground and everyone knew Altoona had to foul, but nothing was called,’’ Central Catholic coach Chuck Crummie said. “I had a feeling of uneasiness. You could see it slipping away at the end. I think we started watching the scoreboard instead of just playing basketball.’’
With 18 seconds left, Altoona got the ball into the hands of Morris, who took about nine seconds off the clock before passing off to Carney.
Carney then dished it off to Little in the corner by the Mountain Lion bench for the game-winner.
“This is unbelievable,’’ Morris said. “I knew we weren’t playing up to our potential in the first half, but we clawed our way back. This is the best game I have ever played in.’’
Game notes: Altoona improved to 21-8. The site and time for western final will be determined today ... Central Catholic ended its season at 24-5 ... Altoona was 26-of-51 from the field and the Mountain Lions finished with 17 turnovers, just three in the second half.
ALTOONA (71): Durbin 4 0-0 9, Morris 9 5-6 24, Johnson 6 9-14 21, Carney 4 0-0 9, Nedimyer 1 1-2 3, Galbraith 0 0-0 0, Kessinger 1 0-0 2, Little 1 0-0 3. Totals: 26 15-22 71.
CENTRAL CATHOLIC (69): Cale 7 0-1 16, Crummie 2 0-0 4, Finnegan 2 1-1 5, Horan 8 0-1 18, Sites 2 1-2 6, Skrinjer 1 2-3 5, Stone 2 4-6 8, Ward 3 0-2 7. Totals: 27 8-16 69.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona 16 16 15 24 — 71
Central Catholic 19 15 23 12 — 69
3-point goals: Altoona 4 (Morris, Durbin, Carney, Little); Central Catholic 7 (Horan 2, Cale 2, Sites, Skrinjer, Ward). Technical fouls: none. Officials: George Prizendorfer, Bernie George, Carl George (District 7).