HUTCHINSON, KANSAS – Jestin Lewis didn't want his final memory in a Wallace State uniform to be a missed free throw in the closing seconds of double overtime Monday night at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
With an assist and keen awareness from teammate Lee Moore, Lewis made sure he didn't have to worry about that. Lewis extended the Lions' season with one of the biggest layups in the program's history by scoring the winning bucket with 0.8 seconds left to secure a thrilling and draining 101-99 double overtime victory over Westchester (N.Y) Community College at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
As it did at the end of regulation and the first overtime, Westchester had a chance to win the game on its final possession in double overtime. Wallace State, which overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half, had other plans. Westchester's Giovanni McLean lost the ball in traffic, Moore corralled the loose ball for the Lions, threw it over his head and Lewis scooped it up on the other end and converted the layup, sending the 15th-seeded Lions to a second-round game against No. 2 Vincennes (Ind.) on Wednesday at noon.
"If we had lost that game after I missed those free throws, I would have been heartbroken. It would have taken me a long time to get over," Lewis said. "We stuck together and made another play when we had too. We had to stick together the entire game and fight through some tough moments."
Lewis and Moore each finished with 28 points for the Lions, both nailing four 3-pointers apiece.
Lewis flirted with a triple-double, also finishing with eight rebounds and seven assists. Meanwhile, Moore, who played only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, poured in 26 of his 28 points after intermission.
"Jestin Lewis made some ridiculous shots for us. I don't know how he makes some of them. And, for us to be down only one point at halftime with Lee Moore in foul trouble was remarkable. It was impressive to see Lee play as well as he did down the stretch, considering the rough first half he had," said Wallace State coach John Meeks, who has his Lions in the national tournament for the second time in three seasons. "Westchester had us on our heels a little bit in the second half. We didn't come out with the punch or energy we needed, but I've never seen a group like ours who refuses to lose. We had to get stop after stop after stop in order to win, and we had so many different guys step up and make a play. It's not fair to single anyone out."
Wallace State survived and advanced with one of its more impressive wins of the season. The teams traded leads eight times in the first half before Westchester (28-5) maintained a slim 34-33 lead at the half. The Vikings used a 22-9 surge early in the second half to open their cushion to 56-42 with 13:31 remaining. Westchester later grabbed its biggest lead, at 63-46, with 10:26 left.
Wallace State then put on the rally caps. Moore and X-keem Jones combined to score the next 12 points for the Lions, trimming their deficit to 66-61 with 5:42 remaining in regulation. Jones helped the Lions notch things at 66-66 by hitting a pair of free throws at the 4:01 mark. The teams traded leads six times during the rest of regulation.
Westchester's McLean gave the Vikings a 75-74 advantage with 21 seconds remaining, but Moore forced overtime for Wallace State by hitting one free throw with six seconds left. The Lions' defense kept Westchester from scoring on its final possession at the end of regulation.
In the first overtime, Wallace State built as much as a 3-point lead with 2:49 remaining after Marcus Johnson nailed his lone field goal of the game, a 3-pointer from the right corner. Westchester quickly tied it back up and regained control and an 88-84 lead with 1:12 left after Keon Erving hit a 3-pointer for the Vikings.
With 27.6 seconds remaining, Westchester's Joel Angus Jr. hit a pair of free throws for a 90-87 advantage.
Lewis and the Lions had a resounding answer. Lewis swished an off-balance 3 in the face of a Westchester defender, tying it at 90-90 with 22.2 seconds remaining in the first OT.
Once again, Wallace State made another strong defensive stop to force five extra minutes.
Cody Farley scored three straight points for Wallace State in the second overtime, and the Lions later maintained a 95-92 lead with 2:59 remaining. Westchester regained the lead, at 96-95, on a McLean jumper with 1:50 left. The Vikings added to their advantage over the next minute with McLean making it 99-96 with 30.8 seconds remaining. Lewis was fouled on a 3-point attempt on Wallace State's ensuing possession, but he missed his first free throw, missing out on a chance to tie the game again.
Wallace State's defense buckled down significantly over the final 19.5 seconds, forcing two crucial Westchester turnovers. Lewis recovered the first turnover and was sent to the free-throw line again, where he made one of two to tie it at 99-99. Westchester's final turnover resulted in the Lions putting the finishing touches on the victory.
"That had to be one of the more exciting games played here in Hutch in a long time. I looked around at one point and saw all sorts of people standing up and yelling for us like it was already the national championship game. They seemed to be enjoying cheering for Wallace State," said Meeks, whose team drained 12 3-pointers. "Once we made the comeback, we were the aggressor and made Westchester stop us."
Monday's opening-round game featured 19 lead changes and nine ties.
Farley added 12 points and four rebounds for the Lions, while Marcus Burwell contributed eight points.
McLean led Westchester in the loss with a game-high 34 points. Luis Montero finished with 19 points for the Vikings, Keith Thomas had 11 and Angus Jr. added 10.
Pictured: Wallace State guards Lee Moore (4) and Marcus Hayes (21) celebrate the Lions' 101-99 double overtime victory Monday night against Westchester (N.Y) CC at the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas. Moore scored 28 points for the Lions.