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Patel’s game-winner helps Ann Arbor Huron knock off previously unbeaten Bedford, claim sole possession of first in SEC Red

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, January 17, 2020, 10:13 pm

ANN ARBOR — Rolling the ball from the baseline to conserve time on the clock, Ann Arbor Huron point guard Reeya Patel literally had a split second to decide whether to run the play as designed, or take the ball to the hole herself.

The senior chose the latter, and made a tough, back-handed layup with 2.5 seconds left to break a 51-51 tie with previously unbeaten Temperance Bedford. 

The play would stand up as the game-winner in a 53-51 home victory Friday night that left the River Rats in sole possession of first place in the murderously tough Southeastern Conference’s Red Division. 

“We were trying to run the same play we’d run the previous play, to Siena (Smith) … They were guarding her pretty well. I saw Lex (Alexa Lyon) was open, but it was a hard pass to get it to her, and I saw that she could seal her off, so I went and attacked my defender, and just got the layup off,” Patel said. “I saw Lex, and was going to pass it to her, but it was a hard angle, so I was like, ‘I got this.’”

Siena Smith, who had 16 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, tied the game at 51-51 with 16 seconds left and, after a turnover by the Kicking Mules (8-1, 1-1 SEC Red), the River Rats (9-2, 2-0) drew up the same play to run in the final 8.8 seconds. 

“We were literally in a game just like this with Saline on Tuesday, so we had talked about that with eight seconds left, coming out. We said ‘Let’s get a stop, go to overtime, and win it.’ They ran downhill agains us, with some dribble-drive, and she (Patel) made a tough shot,” Bedford coach Bill Ryan said. 

“Those (Huron) guards — they made some big shots down the stretch. My kids are really disappointed, but you just gotta tip your hat. I thought we defended them well, but they just made some shots.

“I wish we could’ve had that turnover back — we’re a pretty cerebral, half-court, grind-it-out type of team, so to throw that run-out … but kudos to our kids for coming out flat and finding a way to be in the game at the end.”

The Mules got the ball to half court after Patel’s shot, and took a timeout to set up a potential game-tying or -winning play, but couldn’t get the ball inbounds, and Patel was able to catch it in Huron’s inbounds play, and run out the clock.

But, a few minutes earlier, it wasn’t easy to wait for the right time to pick up the rolling ball, then make that split-second decision on how to attack the defense — a defense you’re only half-watching while the ball rolls. 

“It’s really hard, because you really don’t know what the defense is going to do until you first pick it up and take that first dribble,” Patel said. “And that’s right when the clock starts. It’s really hard, but that’s what we practice, that’s what we’re built for, and four years of experience really helped me in that moment.”

Her coach had no problems with what she decided. 

“I think the point guard position is one where you’re always thinking about how to improve, and how to run the team — and she can score, too. She’s a scoring point guard. The play was for Siena, but she read that they kind of cheated out, so she drove the seam,” Huron coach Scott Hunter said. “We were trying to spread them out and get to the seam, but it was like we couldn’t quite get a rhythm going.”

Aubrie Zeunen’s three-point play with 3:17 left gave Bedford a 48-44 lead, and Grace Ryan hit a pair of free throws with 27.6 left to make it 51-48.

Savanna Killinen hit four 3-pointers in the game, three of them in the third quarter, the last with four seconds left to give Bedford a 42-37 lead headed to the fourth quarter. Huron led 24-21 at the half.

“Our girls battled back. I was not happy with the first half, but I thought that they showed some character, and kind of played like we had been playing up to this point in the season,” said Ryan, who had to depend on his bigs — Sophia Gray, Grace Ryan and Molly Koviack — more than normal. “People don’t stymie our guards as well as they did. We had some dribble-drive opportunities, but they were equal to the challenge, with their defense. Consequently, we leaned heavy on the bigs this evening.”

It resulted in the River Rats getting in foul trouble in the third, forcing Hunter to go small for a few minutes, and try to spread out the floor. 

“I thought we switched up defenses and got some key stops, which helped us. They made some big baskets,” Hunter said. “I think we had just enough defensive stops to get it done.”

Patel and Lyon finished with 12 each for Huron, while Killinen led Bedford with 12, Gray had 11 and Zeunen 10. 

While Huron leads the pack in the SEC Red, it’s only a hands-breadth ahead of that pack, which includes a four-way tie for second place between Bedford, Ann Arbor Pioneer (6-3, 1-1), Saline (9-1, 1-1) and Monroe (4-4, 1-1). With the depth in the league, holding serve at home is going to be key.

“I’m so happy for our league, the Ann Arbor area to have four or five really good basketball teams — it makes for an exciting season,” Ryan said.