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Waller’s free throws downs Wakefield in overtime

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RALEIGH - Heritage's boys basketball team was down almost the entire game at Wakefield, but they ended up on top when it mattered most after a thrilling 56-55 overtime victory Tuesday.

The game came down to a couple of big moments within the final minute of the game. Wakefield's Tamba Gbondo scored a lay-up, his first points of the game, with 20 seconds left in overtime to give his team a 55-54 lead.

However, with five seconds left, Gbondo bumped into Heritage's Tre Waller and fouled him. That sent the senior guard to the free throw line, where he has made 71 percent of his shots at the line in his career.

"We practice free throws every day," Waller said. "I was just keeping my cool. I had confidence in myself that I was going to hit them."

Waller made the first free throw to tie the game at 55-55. Then with everyone in the gym holding their breath, he threw up the second free throw. The ball went through the net and gave the Huskies a 56-55 lead.

"I was nervous because of how the game played out, but I don't know if there's any other player I want out there on the free throw line than Tre," Brill said. "Tre has hit some of the biggest shots in Heritage history. Tonight was no different. That's the guy I want. He's a four-year varsity senior."

Wakefield drove down the court to try and make a big play. At the buzzer, the Wolverines could not get a good shot off and they missed, giving Heritage the victory.

"Tonight was about resiliency," Brill said. "The guys kept bouncing back. It was a grinder. It was a great high school basketball atmosphere. I was glad we were able to come out on the winning end of things. I thought our mental toughness is the best at this point in this season."

Heritage trailed Wakefield for most of the night. In the first quarter, the Wolverines jumped ahead to a 12-4 lead. The Huskies cut the deficit at 14-9 by the end of the period.

In the second quarter, Heritage tied the game at 17-17. Then Wakefield pulled off a 7-0 run to end the first half with a 24-17 advantage.

In the third quarter, Heritage pulled off their own 7-0 run to tie Wakefield again at 24-24. It was a back-and-forth battle, but the Wolverines went into the fourth quarter up 30-28.

Heritage took their first lead of the night at 33-32 in the fourth period. Wakefield quickly took back the advantage at 35-33. With 27 seconds left in regulation, Heritage's Redford Dunton hit a 3-pointer to tie the match at 49-49.

Wakefield's Jaxon Brown missed an inside jump shot at the buzzer, which sent the game into overtime.

The rest was history from there, as Waller made his free throws to complete the season sweep over Wakefield.

"We just kept great poise," Waller said. "It doesn't matter if we were up or down. We stayed together as a team. We played great defense and executed on offense."

Dunton led the Huskies with 24 points. After Waller made his free throws, he finished the night with nine points.

With the loss, Wakefield dropped to 12-8 overall and 4-3 in NAC 6 conference play. The Wolverines are now fighting for a 4A state playoff spot with Rolesville.

With the win, Heritage improved to 12-8 overall and 6-1 in the NAC 6 conference. Since Rolesville defeated Knightdale the same night, the conference champion will be decided when Heritage takes on the Knights at home in a rematch Friday Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

"We have to get healthy," Brill said. "We have some guys who are banged up right now. We've got to be ready to play. Hopefully the highlight of our season is yet to come."

The last time Heritage played Knightdale, the Huskies lost 66-59 on the road. If Heritage wants to be crowned conference champs, they will have to avenge their loss and get even with the Knights.

"We have to come together as a team down the stretch," Waller said. "On defense, we have to crash the boards. If we do that, we'll come out victorious."