DeKALB — Before the final second Thursday night, Brandon Vice had but one bucket for Moline's boys' basketball team.
However, the 6-foot-6 junior fittingly put the finishing touches on a 52-50 Maroons win over Hampshire with a buzzer-beating putback, putting the defending champs back into tonight's title game at the 85th annual Chuck Dayton Classic.
The game-winner was appropriate because Vice loomed so large in the thriller, adding a team-high-tying two steals to game-high-tying totals in assists (five) and blocked shots (two) to a Moline-best 13 rebounds.
"It wasn't supposed to end like that, but it worked," Vice said after cashing in a driving miss by Drew Owens. "Drew came around a screen, just like we drew it up, and got a good shot up. I thought it was in actually. But I was just lucky nobody boxed me out and it came right to my hands. It was just the right place at the right time. I just hoped I had enough time."
The buzzer-beater answered Hampshire's final-minute rally from a six-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
The Whip-Purs (11-2) hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 60 seconds, forging a 50-50 tie with 14.1 ticks remaining in regulation on a long ball by Tyler Crater (16 points).
"That last one was a deep three," Moline coach Jeff Schimmel said. "So I didn't want to give them another shot. Thankfully, Brandon was there to finish it for us. He just made a play. He didn't give up. He stayed with it. It was a tough miss off the board, but that's what we need our guys to do, just make plays."
Actually, Vice made a lot of plays Thursday, especially in the game-turning third quarter when Moline (7-6) went from down five points at halftime to up seven heading into the final minute of the frame.
Vice had no points in the period but helped key the rally with five rebounds, three assists, a steal and blocked shot.
Derrick Stabler (eight of his team-best 18 points) and Owens (eight of his 15 points) also sparked a game-turning 10-0 run.
"Early in the year, we probably would have packed it in early in the third quarter," Schimmel said, with Moline still down five points at the 4:30 mark having scored but one basket to start the second half. "But we hung in there, held together, and we found a way."
That in turn has the Maroons back in the title tilt despite coming into the holiday tournament a week ago on a five-game losing skid.
"I don't think anybody could have guessed we'd be back in the championship game with a whole new set of guys," said Schimmel, himself Moline's first-year varsity coach after winning the tourney's sophomore title with some of these Maroons last season. "To come off a five-game skid to win four straight at Christmas is a huge confidence boost for us."
But by no means is Moline settling for the consolation prize of some positive momentum finally heading into tonight's 6:30 final with Winnebago.
"Just getting there is not enough," Vice said. "We want to win."
Shane Hernandez led Hampshire, posting a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds and doing most of his damage (nine points, four rebounds) when a tired Vice rested in the fourth quarter.
Moline also got five assists from Owens, two steals from Wood and a pair of blocks and four rebounds off the bench by Bryan Brinker.