By KEVIN HARRIS
Jeffersonville senior guard Darryl Baker has already produced a season’s worth of highlights during the 2012-13 season.
On Saturday night at the Larkin Center, Baker added another highlight to his collection.
Shortly after Providence senior George Knott hit a game-tying 3-pointer, Baker answered with a dramatic game-winning 3 at the final buzzer to give the Red Devils a 59-56 victory.
“Who else would you want to get the ball?” Jeff coach Chad Gilbert asked following Baker’s heroics.
After Keenan Williams put the Red Devils (11-2) up 56-53 with 20 seconds left in regulation by making 1-of-2 free throws, Knott got the ball near the top of the key and nailed a 3 with less than 10 seconds left to tie the game at 56.
“He’s not really a 3-point shooter. We’re kind of fortunate that went down,” Providence coach Lou Lefevre admitted. “When a great team gets something fortunate like that, you make sure you cash in on it. It was a great shot, but not so great transition defense.”
On Jeff’s ensuing possession, Baker got the ball at the top of the key and hit nothing but net at the horn.
Baker said he did not want to duplicate what happened in the junior varsity game, which went to triple overtime.
“I just wanted to score and get the last-second shot off,” Baker said. “I didn’t want to go to three overtimes like our JV did, so I just went down and hit the shot.”
Lefevre said his team’s lack of execution on the defensive end on Baker’s game-clinching trifecta was the difference.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Lefevre said. “You wish you had a chance to remind your team who we were looking to take it. We kind of treated him like any other player and that’s not the way you can treat him.”
The Class 2A No. 4 Pioneers took a 27-18 lead near the midway point of the second quarter, but Jeff sliced its deficit to one with an 8-0 run with Baker scoring all eight points. He hit a pair of free throws, followed by knocking down back-to-back 3’s.
Providence senior Dalton Duley capped the first-half scoring with a 3 of his own and the Pioneers led 30-26 at halftime.
Jeff came out on fire in the third quarter, outscoring Providence in the stanza 14-9 to take a 40-39 advantage. Baker tallied 10 of the Red Devils’ 14 points in the period. A Williams layup put Jeff up 51-44 with less than three minutes in regulation.
The Pioneers (10-1) refused to go away.
They went on a 7-1 spurt to pull within one at 52-51. Duley capped off the run with a 3 at the 1:08 mark in the fourth quarter.
Williams responded with a 3-point play with 43 seconds remaining to give Jeff a 55-51 lead. Knott got Providence to within 55-53 after tipping in a missed 3 by Duley with 21 ticks left.
“They make you pay for your mistakes,” Gilbert said of Providence. “They offensive rebound extremely well and they put us in a bind by manhandling us on rebounds. But the kids stepped up in the second half and answered the call.”
Baker was the only Red Devil to score in double figures with a game-high 31 points. He had a solid all-around night shooting the basketball. Baker connected on 11 of his 18 field-goal attempts, shot 4-of-5 from the free throw line and knocked down 5-of-8 3-pointers.
Baker’s performance left Lefevre frustrated afterwards.
“Baker is about as good of a high school player as I’ve ever seen,” Lefevre said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t stop him. Somebody or some team in this country can stop him better than we tried to stopped him tonight. That’s not OK that he scores every time. You have to do a little more. You have to be more aware. Maybe we have to have a better game plan — I don’t know.
“In my mind, it’s not OK to just play well. We couldn’t stop him — we have to stop him. If we’re going to advance in the playoffs, we’re going to have to beat good teams like this. It was a good game for the fans, but we’ve got to look at what more we could have done.”
Jeff junior Drew Ellis scored nine points, while Williams had eight.
Knott wound up with a career-high 28 points, scoring 13 in the first quarter. For the game, Knott made 12 of his 17 shot attempts and was 3-of-4 from the stripe. Knott and teammate Ryan Pickerrell each grabbed a game-high six rebounds. Providence guard Nano Grantz distributed a game-high 10 assists with six coming in the first half.
Duley had 16 points, shooting 6-of-12 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
“Dalton is a terrific 3-point shooter,” Lefevre said. “He’s going to make a lot of those. We played pretty good offense for the most part.”
The Red Devils will have a critical Hoosier Hills Conference game next Friday when they travel to Columbus East.
Providence will travel to Crawford County on Tuesday.