As Snider's 14-point third-quarter lead over Northrop slipped away Saturday and the Class 4A Carroll sectional final turned into a fight to the finish, Panthers senior Dillon Duff had one comforting thought: At least they'd been there plenty of times before.
"We were saying, they don't know how to handle an end of the game situation like this, they don't do this every week," Duff said. "We've done this too many times. We know how it is. We don't get nervous anymore, because it's every week."
Snider (19-6, 7-2 SAC), a team that had already won on two spectacular buzzer-beaters and had claimed a two-point victory in the SAC tournament semifinals, won 59-56 for its first sectional title since 2009.
It was a long-awaited moment for the Panthers, who have reached the SAC Holiday Tournament finals and have been strong contenders in the conference regular season in each of the last two seasons, only to watch someone else take home the title.
"I've seen it every single year – it's never us," Duff said after cutting his piece of the net for the first time in his career. "We've had times where we should've won games, and we lose in the first round to teams that we've beat before. It hurts so much, and I was thinking the whole game, if that happens again I can't live with that. It can't happen."
It's largely because of Duff that it didn't. He made four 3-pointers, including three in the fourth quarter, and went 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the final quarter. He led the Panthers with 28 points and nine rebounds. Senior Isaac Farnsworth and junior Michael Eley each scored nine points.
Snider held Northrop to 0-of-8 shooting and just one point in the first quarter, and pulled ahead by as much as 22-6 in the second quarter.
But senior Qualen Pettus and the Bruins (13-13, 5-4 SAC) began to turn back the tide. Pettus scored 10 points in the second quarter, and the Northrop press began to trip up the Panthers, who finished the game with 21 turnovers.
"Credit Northrop, their pressure bothered us," Snider coach Jeremy Rauch said. "We had prepared a little bit for it, but when you see it on a Friday and then you prepare for it on Saturday morning, you can't simulate what they do, with the pressure of the environment enhancing it."
Pettus's hot streak continued as the Bruins closed in on the Panthers in the third quarter, and by the fourth senior Tenoah Ridley was finally able to drive to the basket and finish the easy layup. It gave the Bruins their first lead of the game, 40-39.
Pettus finished with 21 points and Ridley with 19.
"The thing we've always said is take care of the inputs, and the outputs take care of themselves," Rauch said after clinching his first sectional title. "To see them rewarded for their effort, I'm just so incredibly proud. This is the first time I've had one in my 10 years (of coaching), and I wouldn't ask for a different group of guys to win it with. They're just incredible young men, and obviously talented basketball players putting it together at the right time."