"Believe coach (Troy) Larson tells us we just have to believe," said Iowa Lakes guard McKinley, following his teams 53-52 victory in the Region XI semifinal Thursday in Estherville.
McKinley's two free throws with four-tenths of a second put the Lakers over the top.
"To win these close games like this-especially when you're down-you're just fortunate," said Larson.
For the second year in a row, Iowa Lakes fans mobbed the floor in the Region XI semifinal game. In 2013, the Lakers edged Iowa Central 88-86. On Thursday, two free throws by Diamontae McKinley gave Iowa Lakes a 53-52 victory. See more photos at cu.esthervillenews.net.
Photo by David Swartz
The whole night had its ups and downs with the Lakers trailing by nine early in the second half. But the hosts held Kirkwood scoreless for around 7 minutes while putting together a 14-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Deondre Parks with 6:15 left in the game.
But in this game where every possession mattered, the Lakers couldn't expand on their advantage and Kirkwood hit two shots over the next three minutes with a 3-pointer by Taylor Olson tying the game at 49-49 with 3:20 remaining.
That was still the score when Ajay Lawton hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 21 seconds remaining to give the visitors a 52-49 advantage.
After a timeout by coach Larson, the Lakers made their strategy with 14 seconds left.
"We had a play for a 3-point, but we also decided we could go in for two points also," he said.
On the inbounds play, the ball swung around the perimeter to Emmanuel Golong on the left wing. He faked the 3-point shot and when the Kirkwood defender took the bate, drove to the rim for an uncontested layup.
That forced the Lakers to foul immediately on the inbounds pass.
Kirkwood's Jon-Christopher Fuller went to the line with 5.4 seconds remaining. The 79 percent free throw shooter short-armed the front end of the one-and-one and the Lakers had to hurry to get a final shot. The ball got to the McKinley, who drove the right side of the lane. A foul was called on his shot.
The crowd went nearly silent as McKinley shot the first of two free throws and then roared as the ball went through the net. The second free throw followed the same path. McKinley then stole the inbounds pass to secure the victory as the crowd rushed the floor.
The victory sends the Lakers to the Region XI final for the second consecutive year. Last year, Iowa Lakes hosted. This season, Des Moines Area earned the top seed and advanced with a 92-83 victory over No. 5 seed Iowa Central on Thursday.
The second-seed Lakers will travel to Boone on Saturday for a 3 p.m. game against the Bears. Iowa Lakes beat DMACC in both regular season meeting, winning 78-65 at home on Jan. 18 and winning in overtime, 80-78, at Boone on Feb. 22.
In the first half Thursday, neither team could gain an edge more than five points. Kirkwood took a 19-14 advantage at one point, but a basket by Parks and three-point play by Colton Neff tied the game.
The Lakers' Justin Sloter tied the game with a 3-pointer at 26-26 with 6:30 left in the half and Latrell Love then gave the hosts its first lead since the early going. But the visitors led 34-32 late in the half when McKinley rebounded a miss by Parks and was fouled on his attempt. Those two free throws tied the game at 34-34 at the break.
The second half didn't start well for the Lakers as the visitors went on a 10-1 run, which was capped when coach Larson was called for a technical foul.
But trailing 44-35, the comeback started with a three-point play by Latrell Love with at the 12:48 mark and then a 3-pointer by Golong two minutes later to cut the lead to 44-41. Three Lakers free throws tied the game at 44-44 and the Lakers took the lead on free throws by Parks at 46-44 with 8:11 remaining.
Love led the Lakers with 15 points while Parks had 12, McKinley had nine, Neff and Golong each had six, Sloter had three and Jake Janssen had two.
Both teams shot 72 percent from the free throw line. Iowa Central was 16-of-22, but only 4-of-6 in the second half. Iowa Lakes was 18-of-25 and made 9-of-11 in the second half.
Kirkwood was just 14-of-46 from the field, but 8-of-19 from 3-point range. The Lakers shot 16-of-43 from the field and just 3-of-13 from 3-point range.
McKinley also finished with a team-high six assist. Neff had eight rebounds and three steals while Love and Parks each had seven rebounds.
Fuller led Kirkwood with 21 points and was the only player in double digits.