HICKORY – The gauntlet that is the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference schedule continues to take its toll on the McDowell Titans.
McDowell lost its third straight conference game, this time in heartbreaking fashion on the road at St Stephens 83-82 in overtime on Wednesday night.
The loss drops McDowell (9-10 overall, 3-6 NW 3A/4A) below the .500 mark for the second time this season.
McDowell jumped out to a strong first eight minutes, leading 18-4, and using a packed-in, half-court zone defense to force Saint Stephens into relegating itself to a perimeter game.
The results worked early on as the Indians struggled from outside and the Titans were solid on the glass leading itself to a lot of transition opportunities.
Unfortunately, that formula got away from McDowell as Saint was able to assert itself more on the inside and on the boards. The Indians, for the remainder of regulation, outscored the Titans 64-50 to force an extra frame.
In overtime, Saint Stephens got on the board first when Axavier Byrd swished a 3-pointer 26 seconds into the frame for three of his team-high 30 points on the night.
From there, it was back-and-forth down to the wire. However, the Indians never fully relinquished their lead in the overtime.
The final minute of the game evolved into a wild flurry of action on the court.
Dylan McRary was fouled on a drive with 51 seconds left and made both free throws to get McDowell within two points at 80-78. Zane McPherson was then fouled on the next possession after the Titans attempted to force a takeaway. McPherson made the front end of a one-and-one with 35 seconds but missed the second.
Trent Lewis gathered the rebound for McDowell and got the ball into McRary’s hands. The senior point guard tied it a handful of seconds later on a basket in the paint off an Adam Randolph assist with 23 seconds left.
Then after forcing a defensive 5-second call on a side inbounds player, McRary gave the Titans a brief 82-81 lead when he drove down the left side of the lane and banked it off the backboard with 12 seconds left.
Unfortunately, Saint Stephens quickly answered and pushed the ball up to Byrd who drove and laid in what turned out to be the game-winner for the Indians with about seven seconds left on the clock.
Without a timeout McDowell quickly got the ball inbounds, but McRary had to settle for a three-quarter-court attempt that fell short of the mark as time expired.
McRary (6 assists, 4 rebounds) finished with a game-high 31 points. Qualique Garner added 21 and Lewis had 15 points and nine rebounds.
J.C. Olivo (4 steals) chipped in eight points, all in the first half. Dequan Boyce scored six points off the bench and Adam Randolph (11 rebounds) scored one point.
Charlie Woy had 16 points and Will Rose tallied 12 points to join Byrd in double figures for the Indians.
McDowell is on the road at Watauga Friday.