PIQUA — It was an “Instant Classic.”
Fifteen lead changes and six ties before the outcome was decided.
And what else would you really expect when top seed Jackson Center and third seed Russia went toe-to-toe for a Division IV sectional title at Piqua’s Garbry Gymnasium after the two teams had split games during the season?
In the end, Jackson Center made the final play in the closing seconds to seal a 46-45 win.
The Tigers improve to 20-5 and advance to play Franklin-Monroe in a Division IV district final at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at U.D. Arena.
Russia closes the season at 16-9.
“We have had a lot of battles with Russia here,” Jackson Center coach Scott Elchert said about the Piqua sectional. “This was another classic.”
He would get no argument from Russia coach Dave Borchers.
“What a game,” Borchers said. “What a ball game.”
Jordan York had given Russia a 43-40 lead with 1:53 to go on a basket inside before Jackson Center’s Trent Platfoot hit two free throws with 1:41 to go to close the deficit to 43-42.
Russia then ran almost a minute off the clock before Platfoot had a steal and layup to put the Tigers up 44-43 with 44 seconds to go.
It took Russia just 14 seconds to answer with another basket by Jordan York.
Then Jackson Center put the ball in the hands of Platfoot and he was fouled with 13 seconds to go on a drive to the basket.
“Trent (Platfoot) has been playing here for four years and he has a record of 11-1 here (in the Piqua sectional),” Elchert said.
He calmly hit both free throws to put Jackson Center up 46-45, setting the stage for one final play to determine things.
After the free throws, the Tigers called a timeout.
With Russia owning a 26-12 advantage on points in the paint, there was little doubt what the Raiders were going to do.
“We felt like we had an advantage inside,” Borchers said.
But with five seconds to go on a lob pass into the paint, there was a scramble for the ball and Jackson Center’s TJ Esser came away with it.
He was fouled with 1.3 seconds to go and missed the free throw, but Russia didn’t have time to get a desperation shot off.
“They say big-time players make big-time plays,” Elchert said about Platfoot and Esser down the stetch. “That is what you saw there at the end.”
Borchers knew it could have gone either way.
“We decided to run a different play at the end,” Borchers said. “It just didn’t work out.”
For much of the first half, Russia had the advantage with hot shooting of Evan Monnier and the presence of Daniel Kearns inside as the Raiders shot shot 63 percent from the floor in the opening half.
But the long-range shooting from Jackson Center changed the momentum late in the half.
Christopher Elchert had one 3-pointer in the first quarter, Platfoot hit two in the second quarter and Esser added one as the Tigers finished on a 10-2 run to take a 25-21 lead at the break.
“We knew they (Jackson Center) could hit those shots, but we felt like we could guard them,” Borchers said.
After Jerron Reese opened the second half with a basket to put the Tigers up 27-21, Jordan York hit two 3s and Mason Dapore scored on a drive to the basket to get Russia within 30-29 midway through the third quarter.
After that, neither team led by more than three the rest of the way. Jackson Center led 34-33 after three quarters and Russia had the only three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Platfoot led the Tigers with 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists. He made all three of his 3-point attempts, including a four-point play in the third quarter.
Elchert had nine points, Aidan Reichert had seven points and five assists and Esser had seven points and three steals.
Jordan York led Russia with 16 points, while Kearns had 11 points and Mason Dapore had 10 points and three steals. Monnier added six points and three assists.
Russia was 20-of-30 from the floor for 67 percent, including 2-of-6 on 3-pointers for 33 percent. The Raiders made 3-of-5 free throws for 60 percent.
Jackson Center was 14-of-33 from the floor for 42 percent, including 7-of-17 from 3-point range for 41 percent. The Tigers were a deadly 11-of-13 from the line for 85 percent.
While Russia had the advantage in the paint, Jackson Center had a 13-9 edge off points off turnovers and 3-0 advantage on second-chance points and off the bench.
“I think one of the big stats was Russia only having one offensive rebound,” Elchert said. “That is one of the best offensive rebounding teams around.”
Both teams scored two points on fast breaks.
“I have always said tournament games are about matchups,” Borchers said. “We had to play a completely different style game tonight and I thought the kids did a good job adjusting to that.”
Russia won the battle of the boards 18-14, but had 12 turnovers to Jackson Center’s seven.
“This is eight straight times we have been to the sectional final,” Elchert said. “And we have won six of those. I am pretty proud of that.”
With the latest being an “Instant Classic.”