WESTLAKE — In a game of big plays, Cameron Kuhn made the biggest.
The 6-foot-1 senior connected on a 3-pointer from the left wing with a tick over 20 seconds left in the game to lift Vermilion into the Division II district final with a 74-72 win over Buckeye at Westlake High School.
After John Tighe gave the Bucks a 72-71 lead with 47.5 seconds remaining, the Sailors’ Aaron Dawson misfired on a 3-point attempt from the right baseline. The rebound was batted to Vermilion’s Seth Konrad, who flipped it out to a wide-open Kuhn.
With 20.3 showing on the clock, Kuhn drilled the 3-pointer to give him 36 points in the game and Vermilion a two-point lead that would be the difference.
Buckeye had a couple of chances to regain the lead in the final seconds, but Garrett Beck’s 3-pointer from the top of the key rattled out, and Jeff Miller’s 3-point attempt from the right baseline came up short in the waning seconds.
“It was a great game and both teams battled hard,” Buckeye coach Matt Saunders said. “The ball pops out to their best player at the end of the game, and a kid like that hits the shot. He hurt us all night and, obviously, I tip my hat to that shot. We had a shot at the end, a good look, but it is what it is.”
In the first quarter the hot-shooting Bucks (20-4) jumped out to a 17-9 lead. The Sailors (18-7) closed the quarter on an 8-2 run, but Buckeye was able to build the lead to eight again, 30-22, capped by a Garrett Beck jumper.
Vermilion ended the half strong, scoring the final seven points to pull within one, 30-29, at halftime.
Kuhn almost singlehandedly kept the Sailors in the game in the first half, putting the team on his back with 20 of the its 29 points.
“He carried us in the first half,” Vermilion coach Kurt Habermehl said. “Without him we’re probably down 15 points in the first half. He did a great job of keeping us in it.”
Junior Kyle Nader said he enjoyed the offensive show his teammate put on.
“It’s just as fun for us to watch as it is for everyone in the gym,” he said. “I’ve been playing with him for such a long time and know what he can do. He really stepped up his game tonight. I really enjoy watching and playing with him.”
Kuhn was 7-of-8 from the floor in the first two periods.
“The baskets looked pretty big and everything I let go went in,” Kuhn said. “My teammates knew I was hot so they got me the ball and kept feeding me.”
The third quarter was a dogfight, with 16 lead changes and three ties. After Kuhn was so dominant in the first half, the Sailors went away from him in the third quarter. Forrest Boyd and Nader each scored six points in the period for Vermilion, while Kuhn added seven on just three field-goal attempts.
“We knew they were going to come out and try to stop (Kuhn) because he scored so many points in the first half,” Nader said. “It really opened up everyone else and everyone stepped up in the second half.”
But the teams were just heating up for the final period. And the Westlake gym came alive.
Nader opened the quarter with a tip-dunk that gave Vermilion a 53-52 lead and brought the Sailors’ student section to its feet. Buckeye responded with a 7-0 run that gave the Bucks a 59-53 lead to the cheers of its fans.
Vermilion caught Buckeye at 61-61 with 4:50 left in the game, setting up a frantic sprint to the finish.
John Tighe hit a 3-pointer for Buckeye to give the Bucks a 64-61 lead. Boyd, Kuhn and Nader scored successive baskets to put the Sailors up 67-64. Miller hit a jumper for Buckeye. Kuhn responded with a pair of free throws, then Miller and Tighe scored successive baskets to put the Bucks up 70-69 with 2:07 left.
Boyd gave Vermilion the lead off a nifty pass from Nader at the 1:50 mark, then Tighe responded with a steal and basket at the other end with 47.5 left to set up Kuhn’s heroics.
“Give them a lot of credit because they hit tough shot after tough shot,” Habermehl said of Buckeye. “Tonight it was about who was going to score last it seemed like. We were lucky enough to do it.”
Nader added 17 points and eight rebounds to Kuhn’s game-high 36. Boyd chipped in 13 for the Sailors.
Beck paced Buckeye with 25 points while Miller added 14 and eight rebounds.
Both teams shot well, combining to shoot 58.5 percent from the floor (Buckeye 60 percent on 30-of-50 shooting, Vermilion 57.1 on 28-of-49).
“Offensively, we were outstanding, but unfortunately it was probably the worst defensive game we played all year,” Saunders said. “You can attribute a lot of that to Cameron being as good as he was.”
After the game Kuhn talked about the atmosphere inside the gym at Westlake High School.
“Our student section was great and the crowd was amazing,” he said. “It was the best … the best game of my career so far. It was a lot of fun.”
The Sailors will play tonight’s Clearview-Holy Name winner for the district championship Saturday at 7 p.m. at Westlake.
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Vermilion 74, Buckeye 72
VERMILION (74): Forrest Boyd 5-3-13, Aaron Dawson 0-0-0, Kyle Nader 7-3-17, Seth Konrad 0-0-0, Kyle Kuhn 13-6-36, Ross Lewis 0-0-0, Alex Nunn 0-0-0, Zach Myracle 0-0-0, Caleb Waller 3-0-8. Totals 28-12-74.
BUCKEYE (72): John Tighe 5-2-13, Garrett Beck 9-5-25, Cory Inman 2-0-4, Tyler Hagmeier 1-0-2, Jeff Miller 7-0-14, Chris Vogt 6-2-14, Nate Polidori 0-0-0. Totals 30-9-72.
Vermilion 16 13 22 23 — 74
Buckeye 19 11 22 20 — 72
Three-point goals: Vermilion 6-12 (Kuhn 4, Waller 2), Buckeye 3-7 (Beck 2, Tighe). Field goals: Vermilion 28-49 (57.1 percent), Buckeye 30-50 (60 percent); Free throws: Vermilion 12-16 (75 percent), Buckeye 9-11 (81.8 percent); Rebounds: Vermilion 18 (Nader 8), Buckeye 30 (Miller 8). Turnovers: Vermilion 13, Buckeye 19. Total fouls: Vermilion 14, Buckeye 15. Fouled out: None .