CENTERVILLE – It was an interesting strategy to foul the third-leading scorer in the state late in regulation.
It nearly worked out for the Centerville Big Reds on Saturday night. All it would have taken was for Carson Brown to miss one free throw with 6.8 seconds left.
After missing seven of his first 12 shots from the foul line, Brown needed to make two in a row to keep hope alive for the Moravia boys basketball team. The Mohawk senior not only hit both to force overtime, but sank two more free throws with 12.3 seconds left in the extra session after scoring the tiebreaking lay-up to clinch a 62-58 win at Lakeview Gymnasium in a thrilling battle of Appanoose County schools.
"All I thought was that I had to make these or the game was basically over," Brown said of his game-tying free throws late in the fourth quarter, erasing Centerville's 54-52 lead. "I kept thinking these had to go in. That's what got me through it."
Brown became the fifth Iowa high school boys basketball player to eclipse 200 points this season, finishing with 27 on Saturday night including 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The win is the sixth straight for the Mohawks, but the first dramatic win with seven of Moravia's first eight games decided by 11 points or more entering Saturday.
"We lost early this season to Lamoni (54-47 on Dec. 4) when we came back after having a shutdown for two weeks due to COVID-19. The kids were pretty upset about it. It was a close game that we lost in the last 23 seconds," Moravia head boys basketball coach Bryan Bickell said. "These kids know what they can do, but I don't think they know how much and how far we can go when our whole team works together.
"We've been trying to put together a complete game. This was as closest complete game that we've played."
Moravia's sixth win was also Centerville's fifth straight loss to open the season including the second straight in which a late lead for the Big Reds disappeared at the foul line. Two free throws by Philip Goldie with 14 seconds left lifted Fort Madison to a 72-71 win over Centerville back on Dec. 14 in what would ultimately prove to be the team's last game before the holiday break.
"We got to about the four or five-minute mark left in the game with a five-point lead (44-39) and I reminded the guys during a timeout this was a lot like the Fort Madison game, where we were in position to win if we could protect the lead," Centerville head boys basketball coach Tom Hill said. "Once again, I didn't coach them well enough to get them home. That's the bottom line. I got out-coached, it got us into overtime and had three guys with three fouls.
"Our defense was a little tentative. We couldn't be as aggressive as we wanted to be."
That foul trouble would ultimately open the door to the basket that put Moravia ahead to stay late in overtime. Gage Hanes would follow an assist to Warren McLeod with 1:34 left by stealing a pass from the Big Reds, who were looking to snap a 58-58 tie with a transition basket.
Hanes would instead lead a counter attack by the Mohawks that would find the ball in the hands of Brown driving to the basket with Brady Kauzlarich back on defense. Already whistled for four fouls, Kauzlarich could only provide brief resistance to avoid fouling out, allowing Brown to score a lay-up that ultimately put Moravia ahead for good.
"I was aware he (Kauzlarich) had four fouls early in the fourth quarter," Brown said. "I was going to take it at him because I knew he wouldn't foul me. He's their best player. He was going to stay in the whole game no matter what.
"I knew he'd probably let me go. I went right at him and he had to let me go. It worked out."
Centerville (0-5) got the ball into the paint to Isaac Byrd with a chance to tie the game. Instead, Byrd joined Myles Clawson in fouling out as the Big Red junior was called for a charge in the game's final minute.
"They took multiple charges because we kept going at it. That's how the game was," Hill said. "We need to adjust our game when those type of things are being done."
Brown added six rebounds to lead Moravia while Gage Hanes scored 11 points, dished out four assists and collected three steals for the Mohawks. Kauzlarich, who sat over 13 of the 16 minutes in the first half, finished with 16 points to lead the Big Reds with five assists, three steals and one block.
Merrick Mathews kept Centerville in the game with Kauzlarich on the bench, scoring 15 points including seven in the first half while grabbing a game-high nine rebounds. Trayton Smith added 12 points as the Big Reds face a busy week on the road with trips to Fairfield, Knoxville and Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont on deck.
"We can't hang our heads too much here. We just have to keep getting better," Hill said. "I can't wave a magical wand. We just need to get better and I need to coach them up better."
Moravia, meanwhile, will look for their seventh straight win on Friday night at Murray.
"When you're this close to somebody and this close to another town, you have relationships with the kids that you play against," Bickell said. "Carson Brown grew up with these Centerville kids in his class. He came over here and played with them in the youth groups. He traveled with them when they were young. They all know each other. We had some kids that really wanted this."