Nate Meithof beats his defender off the dribble. The junior guard had a career-high 31 points on the night, but it wasn’t enough as the Celtics fell to Mountainside 60-58 on Tuesday, Dec. 17 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
For the majority of the contest, the McNary boys basketball looked unfazed by fifth-ranked Mountainside.
The Celtics even held a 10-point lead with less than five minutes remaining in the contest.
But down the stretch, the inexperience of this McNary team reared its ugly head.
Despite an incredible 31-point performance from Nate Meithof, the Celtics couldn’t overcome committing 28 turnovers over the course of the contest as Mountainside ended the game on a 16-4 run to defeat McNary 60-58 on Tuesday, Dec. 17.
Even though they missed out on pulling off the upset, McNary head coach Ryan Kirch seemed pleasantly surprised by how his team hung with one of the top teams in the state.
“They made a couple more plays than us. Obviously we’re disappointed, but boy oh boy, I was proud of the effort,” Kirch said. “The one thing that we have found from the first few weeks of the season is that this team is going to be competitive from the tip. They are inexperienced, they are young, but we can get better from this. The end result doesn’t change about how I feel about our performance.”
The Mountainside defense initially had no answer for Meithof. The 6-foot-4 guard started off the opening period with a baseline 3-pointer, which was soon followed by an old-fashioned three-point play.
His confidence only grew from there as Meithof would then bury a step-back triple, as well as a pull up trey on back-to-back possessions.
“I don’t know what to say. I was just feeling it,” Meithof said.
Meithof would end the quarter with 15 points, helping his team gain a 19-11 advantage.
Mountainside cut the lead to two at 29-27 by halftime. But Meithof helped the Celtics offense get going again in the third quarter.
Despite an 8-0 run by Mountainside to start the second half, Meithof, as well as point guard Jando Gonzalez, each converted three-point plays to tie the game at 35-all.
A reverse layup by Junior Nunez gave the Celtics the lead back. Then, after Nunez stole the ball in the backcourt, he found Meithof for a 3-pointer in the corner to get the momentum in the Celtics favor.
Meithof would knock down two more contested triples in the period as the Celtics took a 50-44 lead into the fourth quarter.
“As a coach, you have to feel really blessed to be able to coach a player like Nate. You have to coach a player like that a little bit differently because you need to hold him accountable, but you also have to give him some space,” Kirch said. “We have developed a really good relationship and he knows that I trust him. He plays so hard for his teammates. He was our offensive weapon for the majority of the game.”
Neither team could hit from the field in the first three minutes of the final period. But Tyler Copeland was able to find the bottom of the net from downtown to put McNary up 54-44 with 4:30 to play.
But turnovers and missed free throws plagued McNary in the final four minutes, which allowed Mountainside to crawl their way back into the game.
“It was a lot of mental mistakes. On offense we struggled to get open and on defense we struggled to keep their big man in check,” Meithof said. “We had the momentum for most of the game, we just have to do a better job of carrying it out on the defensive side.”
“Quite frankly, we haven’t had the chance to practice a lot of late-game situations, and that’s on me,” Kirch added.
An 11-2 run by the Mavericks cut the the Celtics lead to one with just over a minute to play. Zane Aicher was sent to the free throw line after getting fouled in the backcourt, but missed both shots. Mountainside took advantage when Grayson Rowell knocked down a baseline trey to put the Mavericks up 58-56 with 33 seconds remaining.
After Mountainside got a defensive stop, Rowell then knocked down a pair of foul shots to extend the lead to four with 18 seconds left.
“I thought fundamentally we didn’t handle their pressure very well. We over-dribbled and our footwork wasn’t very good. We faced some big moments that our guys just haven’t been in before,” Kirch said. “Sometimes, when things start going bad, you play like you’re scared to make a mistake. We definitely got a little timid. But give credit to Mountainside. They’re really good and they put us in those situations.”
However, McNary’s last ditch effort nearly put them over the top.
Jaime Ochoa went in for a layup with six seconds to play to cut the lead to two. McNary immediately fouled Rowell after he received the ball on the inbounds pass. But Rowell missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Celtics one last chance to either force overtime or win the game in regulation.
Meithof, who came down with the rebound, elected to go for the win, dribbling the length of the floor and getting himself in position for a step-back 3-pointer. But the ball hit the front rim and fell harmlessly to the floor as the buzzer sounded.