That ended up being the visiting Wildcats.
All it took was a clutch layup by Elijah Staley, a couple of key defensive stops and the team making three of four free throws in the waning moments to pull out a 76-73 victory.
“No team can be taken lightly in this region,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “We’ve been working very hard, and we still have a lot of hard work to do.”
As close as the game was, Wheeler (9-3, 4-1) played from behind almost the entire night, not taking its first lead until midway through the fourth quarter.
But once overtime began, it was Wheeler which was able to take control.
The Wildcats never trailed during overtime, after the teams ended regulation at 67-all, although Walton (8-6, 3-4) did tie the game on a couple of occasions.
Wheeler took the lead for good with less than 2 minutes to play when Daniel Giddens made his first free throw and missed his second. The Wildcats, however, got the rebound and maintained possession before finishing it with a Staley layup to go ahead 74-71.
Walton worked quickly on the other end, with Blake Poole attempting a jump shot that didn’t make it, and Giddens grabbed his 16th rebound. The Raiders were then forced to foul, and Austin Smoak made a pair to put Wheeler ahead by five with 14 seconds left, but the Wildcats nearly lost that lead as a result of a technical foul on Jerron Love.
The technical foul put Rico Overall on the line, where he made both shots and gave the Raiders a chance to hit a 3-pointer and send the game to a second overtime. Overall shot a 3 in the final seconds, but it missed and Avery Patterson was there to secure the game-ending rebound for Wheeler.
“I think free throws were important for us,” Lipscomb said. “We just had to stay in the game and fight through it.”
Staley was 9-of-12 from the free-throw line in the second half and finished with 25 points for the Wildcats. Giddens had 15 points to go with his 16 rebounds, and Tim Sanders finished with 10 points.
Walton had its chances to seal it during regulation when Overall sank a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:12 left, and it had plenty of chances to increase the lead on the free-throw line. The Raiders, however, couldn’t make enough foul shots to secure that lead.
Walton had a chance to take a five-point lead with 36 seconds left after forcing a turnover, but it had to settle for a four-point edge when Overall made one of two free throws. Wheeler answered with a Giddens putback with 22 seconds left, prompting Lipscomb to call timeout.
Walton had another chance to put the game away at 16 seconds but a traveling call forced a turnover and led to Staley hitting two free throws to tie the game and send it to overtime.
In looking back at the game, Walton coach Joe Goydish said it was the free-throw shooting that hurt most.
“If only we had made our free throw at the end of the fourth quarter,” Goydish said. “We were up by (four) with 1:25 left in the game, but our young team will learn from that. They will learn to finish.”
Walton managed to get up early on Wheeler by attacking the Wildcats from beyond the 3-point line. Four of the Raiders’ seven 3s came in the fourth quarter, and it helped build a 10-point lead late in the frame. But the Wildcats adjusted and went on a late first-quarter run of their own to stay in the game.
Overall led Walton with 28 points. Chris Wingate and Darrell Davis each with 11, and Jordan McCray had 10.
Walton 59, Wheeler 57: The Lady Raiders made most of their free throws down the stretch, while the Lady Wildcats struggled from the line.
Wheeler was just 2-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter and was unable to hold any leads that were built. The Lady Wildcats had leads late in the fourth quarter but were only 2-for-10 from the line in the frame.
Meanwhile, Walton made five of its last six free throws to win the game, with Hannah Patterson hitting the final three.
Katie Dozier led Walton with 18 points and Patterson ended up with 12. Ally Rzucidio came through with 11 points and Kathy Johnson finished with 10.
Wheeler had four in double figures but it wasn’t enough. Muneerah Drummond led with 15, followed by Timmia Sanders’ 14, Alaysia Mitchell’s 13 and Cassidy Allen’s 12.