BELLEVUE - Though he scored 23 points, hit the game-tying shot with five seconds left in regulation, and went over 1,000 points in his career in Columbian's 61-60 overtime win at Bellevue, it wasn't quite an unforgettable night for Derek Kneeskern.
All one had to do to realize that was check the No. 32 on his uniform Friday night.
Kneeskern left his normal jersey, No. 12, in Tiffin, and needed to wear a different uniform.
"That's just my fault," Kneeskern said. "We had a special speech one of our coaches [assistant Shawn Shriver] gave right before we got on the bus. It put my mind on the game and took my mind off my jersey."
Columbian coach Bill Beaston probably didn't mind. With TC (10-7, 8-4 Northern Ohio League) needing to win its final three games for a shot at a league title, and playing the first-place Redmen (12-6, 9-4) on the road, focusing on the game was understandable.
"You can't get No. 2 or No. 3 if you don't get No. 1," Beaston said.
After Kneeskern and his teammates struggled in the first half and went into the break trailing 26-18. Kneeskern only had three points in the first 16 minutes.
Things changed, drastically, in the second half. After Cody Ruhlman's layup gave the Redmen a 30-20 advantage, the Tornadoes responded with a 9-0 run to get back into it, thanks largely to the efforts of Cole Williams, who finished with a team-best 24 points and five rebounds. His short jumper with 2:57 left in the third gave TC its first lead, 34-33.
"Cole dominated offensively, and I think he did a great job defensively tonight too," Beaston said.
"I just do what I can," Williams said. "My teammates got me the ball when I was open."
Bellevue coach Mike Raifsnider said the difference in the game was Columbian's ability to get inside after struggling with it in the first half.
"They did a great job the second half actually attacking the basket," he said. "We really had no answer for Williams inside, and Kneeskern basically killed us on dribble penetration."
The remainder of regulation was back and forth. Bellevue's Jeff Roth's 3 from the left corner with 3:08 left in the fourth - his second from that spot in three possessions - gave Bellevue a 47-41 lead.
Columbian didn't panic. Instead, it went to its two big men -Williams and Kneeskern. Each had a pair of layups in the following minute, tying the game at 47 at the 1:30 mark.
Bellevue regained the lead on a pair of foul shots. Curt Watson and Santoro each split a pair in the final minute, and the Redmen clung to a 49-47 lead with 15.3 seconds left.
From there, it was up to Kneeskern.
"If he could get to the basket we were going to take the tie, if he had to kick out we were going to take the game-winning shot," Beaston said.
Kneeskern went for the former.
"There was a screen coming to my right, and my man was already trying to force over top of it," Kneeskern said. "I went back to the left side away from the screen and refused it, and basically had a wide open, left-handed layup."
As Beaston said, "It was his choice, and he made a right read."
Five seconds remained, but Bellevue's desperation 3 from the left wing was blocked.
In overtime, Kneeskern again asserted himself, scoring layups on his team's first two possessions. The second one did two things: it gave the Tornadoes a 53-49 lead at the 3:08 mark, and it gave Kneeskern 1,000 points for his career.
Kneeskern is only the third Tornado to reach the mark, joining Tony Eisenhardt and Kory Winkler.
"Winning the game was way more important," Kneeskern said. "It's nice to score 1,000 points, but my team's first, and if we just keep winning ... we've just got to keep going from here."
Columbian got the win, but not without some more tense moments. TC bumped its lead to 57-51 with 1:08 left after another Kneeskern layup, but a right-wing 3 by Watson with 43 seconds left, following a Ruhlman free throw, made it 57-55. Watson had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
With 24 seconds remaining and Columbian clinging to a 60-57 lead, Roth got a wide open look at a 3 from the right wing. The shot was on line, but bounced off the rim. Jonah Boyer's free throw with 6.5 seconds left gave TC a four-point edge, and made Ed Haynes 3 on the following possession inconsequential.
"It was very important," Williams said of the win. "We wanted to win this game really bad."
Kneeskern found only one thing wrong with it.
"It kinda disappoints me I didn't get to score my 1,000th point in my No. 12 jersey," he said. "But I'm just happy for the win."
It was a uniform opinion.