APEX — After losing two buzzer-beaters in the last week, Sanderson’s boys basketball team had to wonder what would go wrong when the Spartans went up six with 1 minute, 38 seconds remaining against Apex.
A lot did go wrong, as Sanderson committed four turnovers in the final minute and the Cougars tied the game at 46-all.
But junior guard Brandon Johnson made sure his team wouldn’t lose another heartbreaker with a driving layup with 5.3 seconds remaining to beat the Cougars 48-46 on Wednesday night.
Apex, meanwhile, is looking for some answers to its shooting woes, as the Cougars misfired in 33 of its 47 shots, including missing 12 of 15 in the final quarter.
Turning point: After Apex guard T.J. Evans tied the game at 46-46 on a free throw with 14.6 seconds remaining, Sanderson (4-3) got the ball to Johnson, who saw an opening and drove to the basket, sinking a relatively easy layup when the Cougars didn’t close the lane.
“I saw my opportunity, and (the defender) was sagging off a little bit,” Johnson said. “My game is basically get to the rack, so I saw it and took it. I did what I had to do to get the win.”
Highlight reel: With the game tied at 40-40, Sanderson had an underneath out-of-bounds play set up. But instead of passing to a teammate, Johnson passed to himself and made the layup. Say what? Johnson bounced the inbound pass of the back of an Apex defender, stepped in, caught the ball and made the shot.
“I bounced his off his back, went up for the layup and made it,” Johnson said. “I tried it before when I went to school at Princeton Day in Lanham, Md. It works every time. I haven’t missed it yet.”
Unsung hero: John Kitoko drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 49 seconds remaining as Apex (2-3) tried to rally. Unfortunately for the Cougars, they were 3-of-19 from 3-point land.
What worked: Sanderson controlled the glass, especially in the second half. Apex only had six second-chance points in the final 16 minutes, and none in the fourth quarter.
“The difference on the defensive end was Hunter Kuehn and Ellis Oakley just dominating the boards,” Sanderson coach Mike Shaw said. “They didn’t get any second shots in the second half that I remember. If they did, there weren’t many. It was a good team defensive effort by us.”
Needs improvement: Apex coach David Neal is getting frustrated with his team’s shooting. The Cougars had plenty of good looks against Sanderson, but shooting 29.8 percent from the floor and 15.8 percent from 3-point range isn’t going to get it done.
“We’ve played five games and haven’t shot the ball well yet,” Neal said. “I think we’re a good shooting team. I’m tired of talking about it, and I know the players are tired of hearing about it, but we’ve got to knock down shots. We’ve got to be incredibly good defensively if we’re going to score 46 points and win.”
Best quote: “Seventeen points in the first half is dreadful,” Neal said. “We’re not making shots. Our offense was really stagnant in the first half. It’s disappointing that we’re not moving the ball around and getting more points on the board.”
Feeling the impact: Sanderson can now feel good about itself after losing three in a row. “We’ve lost three games in the last five days, and two of those were at the buzzer,” Shaw said. “Two of those we had the lead at the end, and we kind of struggled to hold on to the lead. We needed a win like this to get our confidence back as a team and know that we can finish and win games.”