LOUISVILLE — As the final seconds ticked away Friday night, Tallmadge head coach Bill Johnson pumped his fist and quickly moved down the Blue Devils’ bench, slapping hands with anybody who extended theirs.
On the other end of the court, Louisville head coach Tom Siegfried walked down his bench as well, just much slower and numb from the pain that comes with an earlier-than-expected tournament exit.
Seventh-seeded Tallmadge owned the final six minutes and knocked off the second-seeded Leopards 60-50 in a Canton Division II sectional final in Louisville.
This was a season Louisville seemed primed for a serious run at its first district title in more than a quarter century.
The Leopards, in their first season as an independent, faced a brutal schedule and dealt with plenty of injuries to show themselves well, suffering just one loss to a team outside of Division I entering Friday. They had a force in the post with senior Spencer Hall and plenty of shooters around him.
All those hopes dissolved on a night the Leopards (13-10) shot 21.7 percent from 3-point range and struggled to sustain any offensive flow.
"Look, that’s a really, really good team," Johnson said. "We did not want to face them at this round and we did not want to face them here. I think our kids just believed in what we were doing and what our game plan was."
Hall, Cam King, Bryce Zuppe, Jared Mathie and Jimmy Wright were part of a senior class that won more than 70 games.
Hall scored the first six points of Friday’s game out of the post on his way to a 15-point, nine-rebound night. Louisville led 12-10 after one quarter and 27-21 at the half.
But the Leopards went stone cold from there, shooting 7-for-27 from the floor in the second half.
The Leopards face-guarded Tallmadge junior Brandon Heigelmann, who scored 32 points against the Leopards back in December during a 67-59 Louisville win.
So senior Nick Hussing stepped in and scored 24 points Friday. The 6-foot-2 wing sliced through Louisville’s defense for points in the paint, scored in transition and hit two 3-pointers to go with five rebounds and four assists.
"It just means we have to move the ball a little bit more and it means there is a gap we can drive on Brandon’s side, which we took advantage of," Hussing said of the Leopards’ strategy. "Whenever I see that, I try to attack the basket."
"I think Nick just said, ‘Hey, it’s my turn to put the team on my shoulders a little bit,’" Johnson said. "That freed up a lot of other stuff."
Down 40-35 after three quarters, Louisville surged ahead 42-40 when junior Colton Jones hit a 3-pointer and Mathie scored off a King steal with 6 minutes, 40 seconds left.
Tallmadge answered with a 10-2 run, which was capped by Hussing scoring off a steal and later connecting on a difficult floater.
Mathie’s 3-point play with 2:20 left (Louisville’s only field goal in the final 4:30) seemed to give the Leopards new life, down only three points. But Heigelmann countered with a cold-blooded 3-pointer on the other end. Louisville never got back within a single possession. The Leopards shot 1-for-7 from the arc in the fourth quarter.
Heigelmann finished with 17 points — 12 of them in the second half — for the Blue Devils (12-12), who move on to face Canal Fulton Northwest in a district semifinal on Thursday at Memorial Field House.
Jones made seven 3-pointers himself the first time Louisville played Tallmadge. On Friday, the Leopards made five as a team in 23 attempts.
"Our thought was, if (Hall) scores 20 on post-up moves, we can live with it," Johnson said. "We couldn’t have them make 12-14 3-pointers. We couldn’t win that way."
King scored 10 points for Louisville, while Mathie added nine points.
"I thought our response in that fourth quarter was phenomenal," Johnson said. "Credit our guys on the defensive end, because we got a lot of stops when we needed them most.
"I thought our response in that fourth quarter was phenomenal. I couldn’t be more pleased with our effort, our focus, our attitude. I’m just proud of the guys."