HUTCHINSON – “Squeaky” Wilkins was cool while everyone around him was about ready to lose their collective minds.
No. 1 Indian Hills, Iowa was one defensive stop away from rallying from a 21-point deficit against Barton Community College in the 2018 NJCAA Basketball Championship.
The shot clock was winding down, and the Barton Cougars were desperate when Wilkins delivered a vintage finger roll that Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing once witnessed up close against NBA legend Julius Irving.
“We looked calm, but we barely got that off before the shot clock,” said Barton coach Craig Fletchall.
Ewing approved of Squeaky’s heroic finish along with the roaring Barton crowd, which was surprisingly supported by Hutchinson’s hometown crowd.
Barton shocked No. 1 unbeaten Indian Hills, Iowa 85-83 in Tuesday’s NJCAA second round when Wilkins converted the game-winning basket and an insurance free throw.
“I knew I wanted the ball in my hands and take that shot,” Wilkins said. “It’s all about staying calm. I’ve played in tough situations like that before.”
The 6-foot-5 Wilkins grew up creating magic on the playgrounds in Chicago, where creativity is a requirement. He’s practiced his finger roll, and remembers rolling it out one time against a junior varsity opponent.
“They didn’t have a scouting report on it,” Wilkins said. “Sometimes I do it in practice. Three games into the season, I tried it.”
Wilkins expertly defended the Warriors’ final game-winning attempt by Antonio Williams that triggered a rare court storming by Barton’s team and cheerleaders.
No. 1 Indian Hills was one and done.
Barton’s 6-5 Marvin Cannon skyrocketed his recruiting stock with a career high 35-point, 15-rebound effort. Cannon’s picture-perfect play sparked the Cougars to a 55-34 lead with 15 minutes left.
“We thought – why not? We’re the underdogs – we had no pressure,” Cannon said. “We knew we’d fight hard, play hard. It’s basketball. We always want to have fun out there.”
The next 10 minutes showed why the Warriors were 33-0.
They stunned the Cougars with a near-perfect 9 minutes, 20 seconds. Indian Hills outscored the Cougars 35-9 by scoring on 16 of 19 offensive trips. The Warriors made 11 of 15 field goals, 9 of 12 free throws.
“They took it at us that second half. They were the aggressor.”
The Warriors led 64-59 with 5:40 left when Fletchall requested a timeout to ask his team a burning question.
“Do you think this is over?”
“We showed character and resiliency down five,” Fletchall said. “We could’ve melted down.”
Cannon responded with eight points down the stretch. Elijah Ford sent the game to overtime at 76 on a clutch free throw after Noah Webster’s free throws on a perfect back-door cut.
“We fought through adversity,” Cannon said. “We knew it’d be a challenge to come out with a win. Everyone played well for us.”
Wilkins said he never doubted his teammates.
“Teams break down when things are not going their way. But we kept everyone together,” Wilkins said. “We made the right plays at the right time. We showed toughness and kept playing hard. Our coaches kept encouraging us.”
Jim Misunas is Sports Editor of the Great Bend Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.