There were 11 seconds left on the clock when North inbounded the ball under Foothill’s basket with a one-point lead.
Tymer Mitchell, Larry Atkerson and Shannon Ferguson all weaved their way through the Trojans’ defense until Michael Gentry was finally fouled with two seconds to go.
Despite Gentry missing the free throws and Foothill getting a chance at a potential game-winning shot, Ferguson intercepted the pass intended for Edward Turner, much like Ferguson did several times on the football field.
The final steal sealed a 64-63 thrilling victory for the Stars on the road Friday night at Foothill.
The win for North (13-12, 6-1) puts it alone atop the Southeast Yosemite League boys basketball standings with three games left in the regular season.
“I never expected that,” Ferguson said of grabbing the ball that ignited a celebration for North. “I was just trying to play defense at the end. Thankfully, it was high enough for me to grab it.”
In his first year as North’s head coach, A.J. Shearon said he believes the win was a statement for the Stars after the team was 4-4 in league last season.
But he said the change from a middle-of-the-pack group to atop the league standings all began when he took over the program over the summer.
“I really feel that when we stepped foot on campus in June and we started putting in work, that is when the culture changed,” Shearon said. “This is more a statement of intent as we go through the rest of the year.”
For Foothill coach Wes Davis, he was left shaking his head on the defensive lapse in judgement for his team in the final seconds that nullified a fantastic fourth-quarter comeback effort.
“We talk about execution and effort,” Davis said. “We had just talked about fouling once the ball crossed half court. Instead, they wanted to run around like chickens with their heads cut off. … (North is) a disciplined team. They wanted it more than we did.”
The Trojans made the game interesting at the end.
North led by 13 at the half and had a double-digit lead going into the fourth quarter. Then Cesar Valdez scored all of his eight points during a 12-2 run for the Trojans to tie the game at 52 midway through the quarter.
“(Foothill) is a really, really good team. Maybe the most talented in the section,” Shearon said.
After A.J. Keys hit a layup to retake the lead for North, Turner scored two of his game-high 28 points on the ensuing possession for Foothill to tie it at 54.
Ferguson then hit a corner 3-pointer and Mitchell converted a three-point play. North never trailed despite Jadon Phillips hitting a 3 with 11 seconds left to cut the Stars’ lead to one.
“For our guys to be so composed and so tough and continue to battle lets everyone know that we are here and will be for a long time,” Shearon said.
Ferguson, who has two 40-plus point performances already this season, and Atkerson (13 points) have been the offensive catalysts for North all season, but it was Mitchell that led the way with a team-high 22 points.
“I just felt that my role on the team as a guard, I need to be a bigger person and step up and box out,” Mitchell said. “They are big dudes (at Foothill) … I just knew I had to step up and be a leader.”
The win for North not only puts the Stars in the driver’s seat for the league title, but also is a statement win in terms of playoff seedings when the Central Section playoffs begin on Feb. 13.
“This is a great win, but East and Mira Monte are not going to roll over when we show up to play them next week,” Shearon said. “They are two really well-coached teams and we have to show up ready to do what we did tonight to get a league title.”