By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Landen Campbell didn’t get the dunk he hoped for, but his first career game-winner will be memorable nonetheless.
Campbell’s put-back at the buzzer lifted Mansfield over Sparta 60-59 in overtime in the championship game of the Sparta Trojan Invitational on Saturday afternoon.
In a wild ending, the rebound fell into Campbell’s hands and gave the Lions a third chance at the game-winner.
“I just saw the rebound right there. I saw it hit the front of the rim, so I knew it was going to come to the backside,” Campbell said. “I just jumped up there and had to get it. Luckily, it went in.
“I was going to try to dunk it at first. But, you know, I got hit so I just put it up.”
With the win, Mansfield (20-0 overall) maintains its undefeated record. Saturday was the closest call yet – only three teams (Woodland, Thayer, Hartville) have played the Lions within single digits this season.
“These are the type of games that will give us a chance to hopefully play our basketball a month from now when districts begin,” said Mansfield coach Cody Shelton. “Sparta’s the type of team we’ll face in our district and hopefully beyond that.”
Mansfield senior forward Tom Emerick finished with a game-high 39 points and earned tournament MVP honors. Emerick, who scored 27 in the second half and overtime, made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation to tie the game and force the extra period.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME
He almost had the decisive basket in overtime, too, but missed a put-back right before Campbell scored.
“I didn’t even know what happened,” Emerick said. “All I saw was me miss it and then the ball go back up and through the net at the buzzer. I was on the floor, yelling and screaming. It was crazy.”
In a battle of state-ranked Class 3 teams, Sparta (No. 7-ranked MBCA) built a second-half lead behind its perimeter shooting. The Trojans made 10 3-pointers as a team.
Trojans senior guard Kavan Walker led the way shooting the ball with 17 points on five 3-pointers. Sparta junior forward Jacob Lafferty, who battled foul trouble in the second half, finished with a team-high 18 points.
“Sparta’s two big guys, Lafferty and (Dexter) Loveland, are so tough inside. I thought that would be a challenge for us,” Shelton said. “We tried to attack their bigs when they got in foul trouble.”
Mansfield trailed by five entering the fourth, then overcame another five-point deficit with three minutes remaining.
For Mansfield (No. 3-ranked MBCA), getting a chance to play Sparta – who was a Blue and Gold runner-up last month – offered extra motivation.
“We aren’t in the Blue and Gold now, and seeing Sparta do really well there this (season), we really wanted to beat them,” Campbell said. “They beat some tough teams there.”
Sparta fell to 16-5 overall. Four of the five losses have come against state-ranked teams.
The Trojans return to action on Tuesday night at home against conference foe Blue Eye.
Mansfield begins a stretch of four straight road games this Tuesday with a trip to Plato.
“We got a pretty big target on our back now with us being 20-0,” Emerick said. “We just got keep our focus and intensity up against every team we play.”
Shelton said the Lions are equipped to handle rising expectations.
“With this group, they’ve been at the bottom when they were freshmen and sophomores and getting beat up by older guys,” Shelton said. “They’ve slowly progressed and got better each year. We’ve had some setbacks and negative things happen. I feel like that experience – the good and the bad – has made these guys the ultimate competitors. They’re ready for any challenge they face.”
Mansfield 60, Sparta 59 (OT)
Sparta 6 12 21 11 9 — 59
Mansfield 8 10 16 16 10 — 60
Mansfield (20-0 overall) – Tom Emerick 39, Landen Campbell 12, Stone Sawyers 6, Chase Kelley 3
Sparta (16-5 overall) – Jacob Lafferty 18, Kavan Walker 17, Steven Brown 9, Walker Loveland 8, Dexter Loveland 6, Mason Letterman 1