Sam Vinson gave the home team faithful a reason to let everything loose with one minute, 38 seconds left in the game.
The Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (8-3 overall) trailed most of the game including by 19 points at one point in the second half. But Vinson took a pass from sophomore guard Will Herald, made a few moves and jammed it in to tie the game against the Conner Cougars (8-3) at 73.
"We practice being down and coming back in practice," Vinson said. "All the guys believe in each other. I was driving to my right and the lane just opened. I saw an opportunity. I jumped up and threw it down. It was awesome."
Following a steal by junior guard Leyton Read at the other end, Vinson took the ball at the top of the key and scored again with 52 seconds left on a jumper to give the Bluebirds the lead for good at 75-73. He came down awkwardly on his right ankle. But he came up fine as the Bluebirds held on for a big 78-75 victory.
Vinson made two free throws down the stretch and Read hit another to help the Bluebirds to victory. Read also took a crucial charge in the fourth quarter.
"We talked after the game. I said this was a character game," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "You have to reach down inside and trust what we do. That was the message at halftime. That was the message entering the fourth quarter. It was the message when we tied it up. We did a heck of a job creating turnovers in the second half without really having to go to a lot of full-court pressure where we were doing a lot of trapping. I was really proud of our kids. We had a lot of great contributions from a lot of kids."
Vinson scored 32 points in the victory and Herald had 15 with senior forward Luke Muller scoring 12. Read and junior forward Oliver Harris scored eight each.
"It was a great game for us to win," Herald said. "We needed a big win like that. (With) shots falling, you have to get used to that. That's part of team chemistry. We kept playing hard defense. It was a great performance overall. I'm really proud of the team."
Highlands junior guard Zach Barth made a triple down the stretch before Muller picked off a Conner pass and made a three-pointer. The Bluebirds made 27-of-63 shots for 43 percent and 17-of-22 free throws for 78 percent.
The Bluebirds also had 26 rebounds, four blocked shots, eight rebounds and 11 steals. Vinson had nine rebounds, four blocked shots, five assists and four steals. Harris added eight rebounds.
Conner saw eight different players score. Sophomore guard Ayden Lohr led the way with 20 points with senior guard Spencer Couzins scoring 19 and sophomore guard Landen Hamilton scoring 10.
Conner made 24-of-50 shots for 48 percent and 15-of-20 free throws for 75 percent. The Cougars also had 37 rebounds, four assists, one steal and 15 turnovers.
"In the first half, we were stretching (defensively) and when they were missing, they were cleaning things up on the back side," Listerman said. "We just have to do a better job crashing with our weak-side guards. In the last minute and a half, I don't think they got any offensive rebounds and that was the key. We were able to close out the game because we got on the glass on the defensive end."
Highlands travels to Campbell County (8-3) on Tuesday in a rivalry game. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Highlands 56, Boone County 31:
The Bluebirds (10-4) started off strong and never looked back in an impressive 9th Region victory over the Lady Rebels (7-4).
Highlands senior forwards Kelsey Listerman and Rory O'Hara led the way. Listerman scored 19 and O'Hara had 14. Listerman also had 11 rebounds for a double-double, six assists and three steals. O'Hara had eight rebounds.
Highland senior guard Kate Vaught made her return to action after being out for a couple weeks. Vaught scored seven points making one triple.
Highlands made 22-of-40 shots including 2-of-10 from three-point range for 20 percent and 6-of-8 free throws for 75 percent. The Bluebirds also had 16 assists, 13 steals, 19 turnovers and 38 rebounds.
Boone County made just 11-of-40 shots for just 28 percent including a 6-for-24 clip from three-point land for 25 percent. The Lady Rebels did not hit a shot until senior Kelsie Anderson made a three with 7:02 left in the second quarter.
Anderson led Boone County with 13 points. The Lady Rebels also had 13 rebounds, 13 fouls, seven turnovers, one blocked shot and one steal.
"I think defensively we did pretty well. That was our main focus," Vaught said. "We knew who the shooters were and who the drivers were. I think we made them come out of their comfort zones to do things they don't usually do. I think that's why the score was so low."
Highlands had a game scheduled at home against Lloyd Memorial on Monday. But the weather forced its cancellation.
Highlands plays host to Beechwood on Friday. Game time is 6 p.m.