OLIVESBURG — When Crestview needs a big shot, coach John Kurtz has every ounce of trust in any of his players to knock it down.
On Tuesday night in an absolute thriller of a high school boys basketball game, it was junior Jarek Ringler who stepped up with the dagger as his 3-pointer with less than five seconds left in the game netted the Cougars a 66-65 double-overtime victory over Madison in nonconference action.
The win kept the Cougars undefeated through 13 games this season, tying the school record for the most consecutive wins with the 1999-2000 team.
“It’s amazing,” Ringler said. “It feels great because it is with this group of guys. We are all so tight so to share something like that with them makes it extra special. It is just amazing.”
After Madison’s Jayden Jeffries popped a 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to put the Rams ahead 65-63, Ringler took the inbounds pass and dished it off to Justice Thompson, who led the Cougars with 21 points, and the sophomore went to work. He drove to the lane and collapsed the Madison defense, and he had his pick of shooters all along the perimeter. He dished it back to Ringler, who calmly sank the game-winning 3.
“Justice did a great job penetrating, and because of his great game he had all night they had to collapse on him,” Ringler said. “He has great vision with the ball in his hands and found the open guy and, thankfully, that was me. He got me the ball with confidence and I took the shot. Honestly, anyone on the floor can make that shot because we trust each other to take it and make it. I was just fortunate to be on the end of it.”
Coach Chris Armstrong’s young Madison team made a crucial defensive mistake in the closing seconds, leaving shooters open while it doubled down on a drive that would have tied the score instead of giving up a 3 to take the lead.
“We made a mistake doubling down on the drive,” Armstrong said. “In a two-point game, we cannot leave shooters. That is just another execution thing that a young team makes mistakes with. But you have to credit Ringler for knocking down that shot. It was big.”
Just last week, Ringler expressed some frustration when he was overlooked on a fastbreak in a previous game, but Kurtz assured the junior that even if he didn’t get the ball that time there would be a moment he would get it and he trusted his point guard to make the shot. That trust paid off Tuesday night.
“Absolutely,” Kurtz said. “About three games ago, we were on a fastbreak and Jarek didn’t get the ball and he was a little disappointed. We talked to him and told him sometimes he isn’t going to get it and, even though he is throwing great passes to set up his teammates, we as a coaching staff trust him to take shots like that. And he was totally fine with it. When he is called upon, he can answer.”
Ringler did answer with 12 points as the Cougars put four in double figures with Owen Barker adding 14 and Tyson Ringler scoring 10. Barker prevented the Rams from getting any sort of desperation shot off when he stole the ensuing inbounds pass after Ringler’s 3 and was fouled with 1.6 seconds remaining. He missed both free throws, but the Rams couldn’t get anything close.
After leading 29-27 at halftime, the Rams took a 41-37 advantage into the fourth and then started the final quarter on a 5-0 run to make it 46-37, forcing a Crestview timeout. The Cougars ended the game on a 14-5 run to tie it at 51 at the end of regulation.
“I feel like this team is very resilient with their approach,” Kurtz said. “We were down by nine and called a timeout and the kids showed they weren’t quitting. They knew they had to dig themselves out of that and it would take a little bit of time. And they did it.”
The Cougars and Rams traded punches in the first overtime as Jeffries split two free throws with 6.8 seconds left to force a second OT. The Rams shot 12 of 24 from the free-throw line in the game, leaving 12 points on the floor.
“We really battled incredibly hard and I will never fault the effort, but there are some execution things that need to be improved on and we have to make free throws,” Armstrong said. “We have to finish games by making free throws. But you have to credit Crestview. They play really hard, play with a lot of spirit and shoot the ball very well. They have a great team, but we have some execution things we have to get better at.”
Jeffries finished with a game-high 34 points while freshman Seven Allen added 20. No other Ram scored more than four points. The Rams (7-7) are trying to develop that consistent third scorer.
“Jayden really had it rolling there,” Armstrong said. “He is such a tough coverage and, frankly, we have to get the ball in his hands at the end a little more. He read the game so well off of screens and rebounded well.
“We have some guys who we are trying to get to make cuts when their guy is helping off on defense. We have to execute that better and on the weak side, we have to have our shooters spotted up and ready to go. When Jayden drives and kicks, we have to be able to knock down shots because that is going to happen more and more every game with the attention he draws. We just have to get the guys to do the things that make them successful.”
Armstrong knew how difficult it would be to game plan for the Cougars. On any given night, they can put any of seven players in double figures, and on Tuesday they put four.
“It’s really challenging,” Armstrong said. “Heath Kash shoots it very well and Justice Thompson has unlimited range and Barker is a load inside. They are difficult because they have other guys who make shots.”
Meanwhile, it seems like every time the Cougars take the court, they make some sort of history. And that is not taken lightly inside the locker room.
“It means a lot because there have been a lot of great coaches and players in this program, but I will say these kids earned the right to share that record and give themselves a chance to beat it,” Kurtz said of the 13-0 begin. “They put in the time and, if you notice, on the court the kids do get upset about things, but they never take it out on each other. I think that is a sign of a mentally tough team.”
The win was also the first-ever victory over Madison in the history of the two programs, which met only once before with Madison coming out on top 52-43 last season. For Crestview, a Division III program, to beat Division I Madison meant a lot.
“It does feel great, but we also know that makes the target on our backs that much bigger,” Ringler said. “We have to come to practice every day ready to improve. That is a great win, but we can’t get stuck on that one. We have to move on and take every game as a new challenge with the goal of going 1- 0 that day.”
Kurtz asked to have the Rams put on the schedule so his team could be battle-tested heading into the Division III tournament that features last year’s Division II district champ Huron and Division IV district champ Margaretta among others like Cardinal Stritch, Genoa and Wynford to name a few
“We have some teams on our schedule that are tournament-ready teams that we hope gets us ready for the tournament, and Madison is definitely one of them,” Kurtz said. “Their coach does a great job with that program after losing a lot of kids from last year and yet they are still extremely competitive. Jayden Jeffries is really good and at times, I felt like we lost him but, overall, I think we achieved our goal of just making everything difficult. Beating a Division I program is not a small matter and it is huge for our kids.”
The Cougars will host South Central on Friday for a chance to break the program’s winning-streak record and remain undefeated in the Firelands Conference. Madison looks to rebound at home against Lexington on the same night.