By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — With another game slipping away late Saturday afternoon, Thomas Wells quite literally stole a victory for the Anderson boys basketball team.
The sophomore guard had two steals in the final 40 seconds, keying a 9-0 run down the stretch as the Indians escaped with a 58-54 victory against Lafayette Jeff.
"I was a little worried after Thursday night and the nice atmosphere we had here," Anderson coach Joe Nadaline said. "That big crowd and all that noise really gets the juices going, and I knew they had to get themselves going today."
The Indians (8-10) snapped a five-game losing streak Thursday with a 59-57 victory against Muncie Central in overtime.The school honored three of the city's Mr. Basketball award winners — Roy Taylor, Ray Tolbert and Kojak Fuller — at halftime, and a large crowd was engaged in the action throughout the night.
Saturday's game was postponed twice and moved to a matinee starting time to avoid a conflict with the girls sectional championship game later in the night at Connersville. As a result, the Tepee lacked the energy it had coursed with earlier in the week.
The crowd fell especially quiet late in the fourth quarter when the Bronchos (4-14) appeared to take command. David Hanyard blocked a shot in the lane, pulled in the loose ball and raced to the other end of the floor where he scored and was fouled.
Hanyard's free throw was the last of his game-high 21 points, completing a traditional three-point play and giving Lafayette Jeff a 54-49 lead with just 1:46 remaining.
Anderson crawled back into the game as Kobe Clay and Zac Owens each split a pair of free throws, but the Bronchos still led 54-51 when they called a timeout out with 53 seconds left.
Nadaline used the break to make a defensive change, calling for full-court and half-court traps. The move immediately paid dividends as Wells burst through a passing lane for a steal to start a fast break.
He scored and was fouled, converting a free throw for a three-point play and tying the game with 38.2 seconds remaining. Wells got another steal on the inbounds play and went back to the free-throw line with 34.5 seconds left.
He made both attempts, but the second was waived off because of a lane violation, leaving the Tribe with a 55-54 lead. Wells finished 8-for-8 at the line overall and scored a team-high 18 points. Six of those points came in the game's final 40 seconds.
"Thomas making his free throws was huge, but he's made free throws all year," Nadaline said. "I really need him to be more aggressive on offense."
Wells just missed a third steal on the next possession, and Grant Bennett knocked a pass out of bounds with 16.8 seconds to play. Following a timeout, Quarin Hood missed a 3-pointer at the top of the key, and Bennett pulled down the rebound.
He was fouled with three seconds left and made one of two free-throw attempts. Dan Ricksey pulled down the rebound for the Bronchos and called the final timeout with 2.6 seconds to play.
Lafayette Jeff's long inbounds pass was overthrown and went off the hands of Ricksey and out of bounds near midcourt. Wells was fouled immediately on Anderson's inbounds play and hit both free throws to seal the victory.
"It wasn't pretty, but it was a win," Nadaline said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."