Kellam boys basketball coach Norman Hassell and senior Noah Singer glanced at each other with a sigh of relief as they embraced for a post-game hug.
The Knights had just escaped Salem’s court on Tuesday night with a 64-55 overtime win that they should have put away 10 minutes earlier in regulation.
Ahead 51-46 with 7.8 seconds left in regulation, Kellam was in line for a sure win until the unthinkable happened.
Salem’s Tony Epps was fouled shooting a three-pointer by Singer on a questionable call with 3.7 seconds left. Singer’s frustrated reaction to the call resulted in a technical foul and an extra two free throws and a possession for Salem. Epps hit one of three free-throw attempts, and Trevon Taylor made both of his.
Now down 51-49, SunDevils junior center Brandon Mitchell collected the in-bounds pass and soared to the basket for a game-tying layup as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
“I just told the guys, ‘Let’s do what we did to get here,’ ” Hassel said of his message before overtime. ” ‘Everybody just relax, calm down. As long as we maintain our composure, we’ll be fine.'”
The senior-laden Knights stayed as collected as a team could be in the extra session during a physical and chippy game, even as momentum was swinging in the SunDevils’ favor after their wild comeback.
Kellam (2-1) stayed aggressive but disciplined in overtime, while Salem was in foul trouble. The Knights eventually closed the game out with free throws, hitting 10 of 12, while holding the SunDevils (3-2) to just four points.
“We just knew if we kept calm and kept our heads, we’d win the game,” Singer said. “It was about taking care of the ball and hitting our free throws down the stretch.”
Singer was a major factor in all facets of the game. He led Kellam with 20 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, including five points and five rebounds in overtime.
Senior point guard Connor Campbell had 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two rebounds against a physical Salem backcourt. His ball-handling and consistent drive-and-dish threat created open shots for a smooth-flowing Knights offense that had 13 assists. Senior Caden Marshall’s outside shooting (13 points, three 3-pointers) opened the floor for Kellam and kept Salem’s defense on its heels. Jalen Craig added seven points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
The Knights defense held the SunDevils to 25 points over the first three quarters, but Salem exploded for 26 in the fourth. Kellam dominated the glass with a 40-20 edge in rebounds.
Kellam’s core group of seniors have played together since fourth grade. Singer believes that camaraderie and reliability on one another makes it a special group.
“We know what we’re doing,” Singer said. “Our chemistry will keep us in games. We just have to rely on that and play smart.”
Mitchell finished with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks for Salem. Taylor led all SunDevils scorers with 15 points (10 in the fourth quarter), while adding eight rebounds and two steals. Epps and Raycine Ward each added 10 points.
Despite poor shooting, losing the battle for loose balls and getting badly out-rebounded, the SunDevils remained in the game, thanks in part to those final wild seconds of regulation.
Salem looks to snap its two-game losing streak against Indian River on Thursday, while Kellam hopes to extend its two-game winning streak Friday against a streaking Landstown squad.