Smoky Valley and Buhler struggled all night to discover an offensive spark.
It was Smoky Valley’s Andy Osner who made the game’s key play with a driving shot in the lane.
Osner’s basket in the paint gave the Vikings a 35-32 lead with 1:30 left in regulation. Osner converted three free throws in the final 3:12 as Smoky Valley surprised Buhler 38-35 in a non-league basketball game Tuesday.
“Andy Osner stepped up and made some plays and did a nice job knocking down some clutch free throws at the end,” said Smoky Valley coach Doug Schneider. “We really rallied at the end. I was really pleased with the team’s effort.”
Smoky Valley’s Holden Hendricks added two free throws and a clutch assist to Cole Norberg, who scored three points in the fourth period. The Vikings outscored the Crusaders 12-6 at the free throw by attacking Buhler’s defense inside.
Osner led the Vikings with 15 points and Hendricks added 10 points in a game dominated by hustling defense.
The Crusaders overcame 13 second-half turnovers and 4 of 17 second-half shooting to nearly extend the game to overtime. Brandon Keeler converted three free throws with 24.5 seconds left and missed the Crusaders’ desperation 3-point attempt at the final buzzer.
Smoky Valley’s aggressive zone defense held the Crusaders went scoreless for more than six minutes in the third period. Buhler scored just one basket in the fourth period.
Schneider had planned to work some man-to-man with the Vikings’ mixture of zone defense. But the zones worked so effectively that the Vikings committed just one foul in 15:30 until Keeler was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
“We were trying to get out on their shooters,” Schneider said. “We had an advantage because we had played Friday night and that was Buher’s season opener.”
Buhler appeared in control most of the first half, building a six-point lead. But the Crusaders’ decent 10 of 23 shooting fell off after halftime. Buhler finished 14 of 40, 35 percent with one 3-pointer.
Buhler has won back-to-back AVCTL titles and qualified for the Class 4A substate championship game the past two years.
Tyson Kuhn led the Crusaders with 10 points and Keeler added six points. The Crusaders failed to attack the Vikings’ zone the way Buhler coach Dennis Wahlgren wanted.
“We’re still obviously trying to find who our scorers will be,” he said. “Our inexperience was a factor, both offensively and defensively. We would’ve liked to have attacked that zone better with some penetration and better passing. You’re probably not going to beat that zone shooting 3-pointers.”
After Kuhn scored to open the second half for a 25-20 lead, Buhler went scoreless until Luke Berblinger and Keeler scored back-to-back baskets for a 30-28 lead after three periods. Kuhn’s inside basket was the Crusaders’ only two-pointer in the fourth period.
The Crusaders forced 17 Viking turnovers and held them to 13 of 30 shooting.
“But I know we are capable of playing much better defense,” Wahlgren said. “We played defense just well enough to stay close tonight.”
Buhler (0-1) plays Salina South at home Friday. Smoky Valley (1-1) plays Concordia at home Friday after losing its season opener 66-35 to Abilene.