The McIntosh Chiefs showed again they have a flair for the dramatic, staging a massive second half rally to topple the Riverwood Raiders 65-59 to advance to the Final Four.
No matter how tough the road looked, the Chiefs did not back down. With the support of a loud crowd in their favor, they pushed and pushed until they clawed their way into the lead for the first time at the end of the third quarter.
“As mad as I was at them at halftime, I’m real proud of the way they came together,” said McIntosh coach Jason Eisele. “If we can come together the way we did in the second half and play that way for a whole game, then I think we can take care of business tomorrow, but we can’t play a half against Miller Grove and expect to win.”
The Chiefs know they have a tough test ahead as they return to Columbus State tonight at 8:15 p.m. to play the 28-2 Miller Grove Wolverines. Miller Grove, a six-time state champion, stands in the way of a state championship bid, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’ve been looking forward to playing Miller Grove for two years now. I think we may have been looking past Riverwood. I’ve been warning them all week you can’t look past them,” said Eisele. “They came out and shot the lights out in the first half, and part of that was us not playing good defense. I tip my hat to them. They did what they had to do.”
The game could not have started any worse for the Chiefs. Riverwood raced out to an 11-0 start and led 14-1 midway through the first quarter, taking advantage of sloppy play from McIntosh and their own hot shooting.
“That’s the third game we’ve come out and played really dumb basketball to be honest with you,” said Eisele. “We tried to refocus a little bit and play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Jordan Lyons got the offense out of its slumber with a 3-pointer and added two more shots from the floor in the first quarter. Will Washington drove and dished around the back of a Riverwood defender to Dishon Lowery for a dunk to pull within single digits. They got as close as six, but a buzzer-beating 3-pointer posted Riverwood to a 22-13 lead after one quarter.
Lyons and free throw shooting kept the Chiefs in the game in the second quarter. Lowery started the scoring with a pair of free throws, but it was Lyons who really made them go, twice hitting three free throws when he was fouled shooting from downtown. He added another pair and a layup to keep close, and Braxton Shaw contributed a key hustle play, flying to the hoop for a putback.
Riverwood’s long-range shooting kept the Chiefs at arm’s length as they drained 10 3-pointers in the first half to grab a 42-27 lead heading into halftime.
“I don’t raise my voice a lot as a coach, that’s not my style, but I raised my voice in there at halftime because I was embarrassed by the way we were playing. We didn’t look like a team out there.
“We didn’t need to be calm. We needed to play with intensity. I think they responded well, so maybe I need to yell at them more often,” joked Eisele.
The third quarter was all McIntosh as the Chiefs strung together one of their best performances of the season, outscoring Riverwood 20-4.
McIntosh started their run with a flair, Lowery pulling down a rebound and feeding Washington for a dunk. Washington simply took over, driving to the rim at will. He scored 10 straight points and 14 in the quarter, all off drives or free throws from resulting fouls.
Lowery wowed the crowd with a no-look pass to Isaac Kellum in the paint for two, and Washington sank two free throws to put the Chiefs in front 45-44, their first lead of the game. Riverwood would score again, but Kellum hustled for a loose ball and scored to put the Chiefs up 47-46 heading into the fourth quarter.
Riverwood shook off their slump and started hitting shots again in the fourth, but the Chiefs never let the momentum get away. Washington and Shaw each hit 3-pointers to keep the game knotted up. Lyons added a pair of layups, the second coming off a steal, posting his team to a four-point lead, but the Raiders got back in front with a six-point run.
The Chiefs responded when they needed to most, shutting the Raiders down from there and locking in from the charity stripe. Lowery tied the game up at 59-59 with two free throws with two minutes left. Chase Walter put them in front with a pair, then Lyons did the same to make it 63-59 with under a minute to play. The Chiefs finished the game with a flourish, Lowery pulling down a huge rebound in a crowd, getting it out to Lyons, who launched a full-court pass to a wide-open Walter for a dunk, bringing the large Chief crowd to explode.
The team found another gear again in the second half, something they hope won’t take so long to find in the Final Four.
“I don’t know why we don’t do that starting out. It’d be a lot easier on my heart if we could do that for the entire game,” said Eisele. “I’m real proud of the way we played in the second half, but that’s not going to get it done tomorrow. We’ve got to refocus on what we’re going to do.”
Jordan Lyons led McIntosh in scoring with 24 points, 18 of them in the first half. Will Washington posted 15 points, and Dishon Lowery added 10.