But Steve Gray has been around long enough to know never to complain after a win.
The state-ranked Norwalk boys basketball team needed 29-plus minutes before it ever put Tiffin Columbian away in Tuesday’s 57-51 Division II sectional semifinal win at Willard High School.
But for Gray, a veteran of 430-plus wins, it was another example why he wanted his No. 1-seeded Truckers (20-3) to play right away as opposed to taking a first-round bye.
“And I would expect us to play a lot better on Friday,” Gray said of the upcoming sectional title game vs. Perkins (13-10) at 6:15 p.m. on Friday back at Willard.
During the regular season, the Truckers slipped past the Pirates twice, 50-49 on Dec. 20 and 49-46 on Jan. 25.
“We got some jitters out, and just about held them under 50 points minus the last shot of the game,” Gray added. “If you can hold teams to right around 48 or 49 points in the tournament, you have a chance to win.”
Norwalk, which beat Columbian by 12 (54-42) and 13 (52-39) in the regular season, trailed the Tornadoes (4-19) by three, 16-13, after one quarter.
But standout Brandon Haraway, a Div. II Ashland University recruit, was able to carry the Truckers offensively until they gained some separation.
Relying on team defense all season, the Truckers limited Columbian to just four points — including none in the final 4:20 — of the second quarter as it inched ahead at the break, 24-20.
It was a 24-23 game early in the third after Columbian’s Tyrin Smith connected on a 3 — but then Norwalk took command.
A 10-0 scoring run with contributions from Ryan Sowders, Garrett Chapin, Kyler Lacy and Haraway was Norwalk at its best, spreading the ball around.
The last basket by Haraway made it a 34-23 lead at the 5:13 mark of the quarter.
But Columbian stayed within striking distance, clawing within 41-34 through three quarters.
Trailing 47-39, Columbian got five straight points from Davaunte Brockington, LJ Reaves and Bryce Burns, and suddenly it was a 47-44 deficit with 3:42 left.
“Give Columbian credit. Their guard play was outstanding,” Gray said. “Their ability to break us down off the dribble and get to the basket was great.
“They had been playing well in the last half of the year, and we did not overlook them,” he added. “We looked at this as the biggest game of the year, which it was.”
But every time the Tornadoes started to give Norwalk a scare — the Truckers simply turned to No. 5. Haraway immediately scored twice on a short jumper and driving layup to push the lead up to 51-44 with 2:14 left.
With the Tornadoes forced to foul, the Truckers were able to maintain that margin down the final two-minute stretch. It was a 57-48 lead after a Garrett Obringer layup, and Columbian made a 3-pointer as time expired for the final margin.
Despite the win, Gray wasn’t pleased with his team’s offensive execution. The Truckers were 21-of-60 shooting (35 percent) from the floor, which included 4-of-18 from the three-point line (22 percent).
“I thought our shot selection was awful, as was our ability to reverse the ball,” he said. “We kept it on one side of the first half and didn’t make the extra pass.”
Haraway finished with 30 points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks while shooting 10-of-21 from the field and 8-of-9 at the free-throw line.
In Norwalk history, Haraway (1,096 points) passed Mike Stewart (1,081) and Tom King (1,092) to move into sixth all-time in career points. His 439 points this season is the ninth-best in a single-season entering Friday.
“Brandon more than anyone else understands,” Gray said. “And I just think he wants to keep playing another game and keep his career going.”
Norwalk improved to 14-4 in its first tournament game in Gray’s 18 seasons. The veteran coach said he saw plenty to like in Tuesday’s victory.
Sowders finished with nine points and nine rebounds, while Chapin had six points — but grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.
“There was one possession in the second half where we got four or five offensive rebounds,” he said. “Again, give Tiffin a lot of credit. They played really well. I thought Brandon made good decisions, Chapin was huge on the boards and Ryan came off the bench and played really well.
“But our goal tonight was to win by one point,” Gray added. “That is our goal on Friday night. Win and advance. That’s what we talked about after the game, and that will be the focus the next two days in practice.”
LJ Reaves 2-2—7; Davaunte Brockington 5-0-10; Tyrin Smith 1-2—5; Cole Zimmerman 4-0—8; Chase Frankenhauser 1-0—3; Bryce Burns 7-3—18. TOTALS 20-7—51.
Brandon Haraway 10-8—30; Ryan Sowders 4-0—9; Garrett Chapin 2-2—6; Kyler Lacy 2-1—5; Garrett Obringer 2-0—5; Austin Brown 1-0—2. TOTALS 20-8—57.
Columbian 16 4 14 17 — 51
Norwalk 13 11 17 14 — 57
3-point FGs: (TC) Smith, Frankhauser, Burns; (N) Haraway 2, Obringer, Sowders