RIDDLE — In a Class 1A Skyline League boys basketball matchup between two division leaders, Riddle and Umpqua Valley Christian played a highly-entertaining game Tuesday night.
The Monarchs nearly rallied all the way back from a 17-point deficit, but the Irish held on for a 68-67 victory in a playoff-like atmosphere in the Riddle gym.
Senior guard Nate Hopkins carried the Irish, scoring 23 of his season-high 39 points in the first half. The Irish (20-3, 10-2 South) entered the contest with the South division locked up, but looking to move up in the power rankings.
The loss, combined with Days Creek’s 50-33 win over Camas Valley, dropped the Monarchs (18-4, 10-2) into second place in the North division race. The Wolves (16-5, 10-1) are now a half-game ahead of UVC.
“It was fun, a great atmosphere,” Hopkins said. “It was just another game for us, but we knew we had to take care of business. We had to put the message out that we’re not really falling back like people think we are.”
Riddle is ranked No. 10 in this week’s 1A coaches’ poll.
“I’m glad our kids pulled it out,” Riddle coach Russell Hobson said. “(UVC) is a good team. The fact is it’s important to be able to beat these teams from the other division, because we’re going to see them in a week and my guess is we’ll have a rematch Friday (at the Skyline tournament) in Coos Bay.”
The Irish, behind a trapping defense and with Hopkins hitting five 3-point field goals, dominated the first half. Riddle built a 17-point advantage in the second quarter before settling for a 39-25 lead at the break.
But Umpqua Valley Christian, sparked by Jacob Luther, made a run in the third period, closing within 51-45 heading into the last eight minutes.
The Monarchs got within 62-61 when Aaron Buechley converted a pair of free throws with 3:15 left in the contest. From there, both teams delivered some big plays.
Colby Greer scored a basket to put the Irish up 66-61 with 1:06 left. Buechley answered with a basket to make it a one-possession game with :33 on the clock.
Dylan McFadden scored to put Riddle back up by five with :26 left. Spencer Adams answered with a basket as UVC cut it to three.
Luther grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a putback basket with 4 seconds remaining and was fouled on the play, making it 68-67.
After a timeout, Luther missed the free throw and the Irish got possession after the ball went out of bounds.
On the inbounded pass, the ball ended up in the hands of UVC’s Jacob Mesa on a turnover. But Mesa passed up a short shot and passed it to Buechley on the left baseline, who was unable to get off an attempt before the buzzer expired.
“We started panicking a little bit in the second half when they started coming back,” Hopkins said. “We broke down defensively. In our history we’ve never been good at pulling out games like that.
“We found out tonight we’re capable of it.”
The Monarchs outscored Riddle 42-29 in the second half.
“Take your hat off to the UVC coaches and players,” Hobson said. “They played a lot harder in the second half. They executed a lot better and we stopped doing some of the things we’d done really well in the first half.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way these guys played the last three quarters,” UVC coach Brian Ferguson said. “The first quarter we let them get out on us and (Nate) Hopkins hit some big shots.
“We just scrapped and clawed the rest of the game. We put ourselves in position over and over again to have a chance at the end to win it.”
Hopkins, who had 12 points in the opening period, finished 13-for-28 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line.
“We didn’t expect Nate to come out and bury shots seven and eight feet behind the (3-point line),” Ferguson said. “He’s a tremendous player.”
McFadden was the other Riddle player in double figures, scoring 11 points. Freshman Mario Gianotti chipped in six points before fouling out.
Buechley led Umpqua Valley Christian with 18 points, 12 coming in the second half. Adams had 14 points, and Luther turned in a solid all-around game with 11 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
“Jacob (Luther) was definitely the turning point, getting all of our guys to ride that wave of momentum (in the third quarter),” Ferguson said.
Riddle hosts New Hope Christian on Friday in its final game of the regular season.
Umpqua Valley Christian hosts Days Creek on Saturday in its league finale.
UMPQUA VALLEY CHRISTIAN (67) — Aaron Buechley 18, Miller, Adams 14, Luther 11, McLaughlin 3, Mesa 4, Mahoney 7, Pettibone 3, Butler 7. Totals 22-54 19-29 67.
RIDDLE (68) — Nate Hopkins 39, Borschowa 4, McMichael 4, Gianotti 6, Myers, Co. Greer 4, Lopez, McFadden 11. Totals 25-56 13-23 68.
UVC 8 17 20 22 — 67
Riddle 20 19 12 17 — 68
3-Point Goals — UVC 4 (Adams 2, Luther 1, McLaughlin 1), Rid. 5 (Hopkins). Total Fouls — UVC 22, Rid. 25. Fouled Out — Gianotti.