TRAVERSE CITY — When the ball left Tyler Pintar's hands right before the final buzzer, his half-court heave looked good.
Traverse City Central boys basketball head coach Jeff Turner thought it was good, too.
But Pintar's potential game-winning shot hit off the front of the rim as time ran out and bounced to the floor, giving the Trojans a 64-62 victory over the Wildcats on Friday at the Central High School gym. (VIDEO: Below, the athletes on the 2013-14 Traverse City Central boys basketball team introduce themselves to northern Michigan sports fans in this video roster.)
"He's a pretty good athlete," Turner said of Pintar, Alpena's junior point guard. "We really respect him a lot. We knew the ball was going to be in his hands. He's a gamer. We didn't want him to have forward motion. We wanted him to catch it going the other way. We were just, 'alright, here we go.' Obviously, glad it didn't go in, but it was close. From where I was sitting I was like, 'well, it's in.' So when it hit the front of the rim and didn't go in I ended up breathing a sigh of relief."
The Trojans (1-1) had to fight until the final seconds despite leading by as many as nine points early in the fourth quarter and by four with 15 seconds to go. After Alpena's Andy Marwede scored on a putback with 5.9 seconds left to cut the margin to two points, Central missed the front end of a 1-and-1. A held ball on the miss gave the ball to Alpena with 2.8 seconds left to set up Pintar's final shot.
Nate Schlusler led Central with 15 points, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first half. Zach Egbert added 12 points and Max Knoblock 10.
Just as it did in the fourth quarter, Alpena (0-1) also battled back from a seven-point halftime deficit, 34-27, briefly taking its only lead of the second half midway through the third period before Central again rebuilt its lead. Central claimed that halftime advantage after holding the Wildcats without a field goal for the last five minutes of the first half.
"Our kids, how we responded, having a nice lead and coming out and letting them get back in it. We kept them at bay for the most part," said Turner. "Last year at this time our kids wouldn't have been able to do that. they wouldn't have known how to overcome that. Lot of credit to our kids about growing within the last year and understanding what we're trying to do. Great game by Alpena. We thought we had them a couple of times. Couldn't get rid of them, couldn't shake them. We feel pretty lucky to get a win."
Marwede and Cody Tucker each had 15 points for Alpena, which was trying to establish consistency after fighting the injury bug already this season.
"Tyler practiced yesterday for the first time in three weeks because of a bad ankle," Alpena head coach John Pintar said of his son, who chipped in nine points. "We were a little out of sorts at times because we missed all of our scrimmages together. Another of our guards is out with a knee injury. We were adapting to playing differently, then we come back and we have to adapt again. This isn't the easiest way to do it, against a team that's got a lot of good athletes. We looked good at times and at times we really struggled playing with a rhythm. I know there's a good team in there. We'll be a lot better."
Central was able to build its biggest leads of the night when it displayed patience on offense and got good shots, but Turner said that's a work in progress for his squad.
"They kind of play with some emotion on their shirt sleeve," said Turner. "There were a bunch of times we tried to settle them down. Last year we struggled at times. We didn't do the greatest thing as far as finishing games. Our kids got excited — that's good — we want them excited, but we also have to be thinking people out there too."
The victory came on the heels of a season-opening loss to Big Rapids, but Turner thought the Trojans played better.
"We made some big strides from Tuesday night," he said. "Getting a win was nice, but we also took a step in the right direction for fixing some of the things from Tuesday."
Central won the junior varsity game 60-35. Devante Walker led the way with 21 points and James Brumfield had 10.
In the freshman game Central posted a 57-24 victory. Nik Norton had 27 points and Eric Ochoa 10 for the Trojans.