WATERVILLE – During Wednesday night’s meeting of state runner-ups, the best player on the floor led his team to a victory and accomplished an individual milestone that put him in elite company.
New York Mills senior point guard Terry Nichols scored 25 points and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark early in the fourth quarter by drilling his fifth three-pointer of the game as the Marauders outlasted Waterville 66-58.
Nichols now has 1,002 points in his decorated career that has spanned four varsity seasons. However, individual goals aren’t what motivate Nichols, who is looking to make an incredible fourth straight state final four.
“It’s a special club,” Nichols said. “It’s a really nice accolade, but overall it’s all about winning and championships. That’s what I’m focused on.”
New York Mills head coach Mike Adey has seen his share of stars come through his program. So his praise for his point guard and his accomplishment has plenty of perspective.
“He’s been our point guard since his freshman season,” Adey said. “He hit free throws in the state tournament as a sophomore that helped us win the state title. I’m happy for him and I’m sure he’s happy to score 1,000 points but I’m sure he’s happier that we won the game. That’s the kind of kid he is. He does things the right way. He doesn’t take bad shots and is an unselfish player. He’s just a great kid and player.”
Griffin Baur, John Mitchell and Ben Kehrli each scored 10 points for the Marauders. Isaiha Spooner led Waterville with 18 points, while Matt Batson chipped in with 15 for the defending Section III Class C champions.
“When we were good tonight, we were good,” Waterville head coach Coby Maxam said. “But we kind of shot ourselves in the foot way too much. Mills is a smart team and when you make mistakes they will take advantage.”
Nichols and the Marauders (8-2) started out slow as Waterville (5-5) came out with its trademark high-energy play to grab a 15-8 lead before Nichols hit a late three-pointer to pull the Mills within four points after the first quarter.
Nichols took over early in the second, scoring eight quick points to go along with a driving bucket by Baur to give the Marauders a 21-15 lead three minutes into the second quarter. Spooner made a short jumper from the elbow to end the Marauders’ 13-0 run, but Mills scored the next eight points on two lay-ins by Mitchell and buckets by Nichols and Kehrli to extend its lead to 30-19.
Waterville answered with an 8-2 run of its own, but Nichols swished a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the Marauders a 35-27 edge at the break. The points gave Nichols 13 in the quarter and 16 for the game. Falling behind was also nothing new for Waterville this season.
“We like to dig holes for ourselves,” said Spooner, who leads the team in scoring during his senior season after missing all of his junior campaign due to a knee injury. “We have been starting out slow and then pick up our game as the game progresses. We played up top with the ball too much and didn’t get it inside enough. We also weren’t good enough on the offensive and defensive boards. We need to start better and rebound better.”
The squads went back and forth throughout much of the third quarter and the Indians pulled within five points on a three-pointer by Nick Salm, but Nichols once again took over, recording consecutive steals that led to buckets to go along with a putback by Kehrli to give the Marauders a 49-38 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
Nichols began the fourth needing just one point to eclipse the milestone. After Waterville cut the deficit to six early in the fourth, Nichols hit a three-pointer from the wing with 6:35 remaining to eclipse 1,000. Shortly after, the game was stopped and Waterville fans joined the Mills faithful to give Nichols a standing ovation as his accomplishment was announced.
“He has composure and is a smart player,” Maxam said in giving praise to a respected opponent. “He’s been there and done that. And because of the kind of kid he is makes it even better.”
Waterville showed the fight that made them a state finalist last year, twice pulling within four points with just over four minutes remaining, but Mills continued to answer every challenge, and finally put the game away when Mike Copperwheat and Baur each made two free throws in the final minute.
“We kept our composure,” Nichols said. “There were a lot of runs in the game and although we didn’t play our best basketball, at the end of the day, we came out with the win and that’s what matters.”
Adey was pleased with his team’s performance, but knows more work needs to be done.
“I thought we played well tonight,” Adey said. “It was a good win. (Waterville) plays hard.” We are happy with the win and did a lot of good things, and some things we need to get better at. But it was a good win.”
Waterville hosts Westmoreland Friday in a Center State Conference Division III showdown. Both teams are unbeaten in the league, and the winner will take the outright advantage. Despite his team’s record, Maxam believes his team will be ready to play its best basketball when it counts.
“We’ve played up,” Maxam said. “We’ve played state-ranked teams, and I’m not going to schedule easy teams to post an 18-2 record and be a pretender in sectionals. We are going to play tough games, and it’s not how you start, but how you finish … and we’ll be ready.”
New York Mills hosts Old Forge in a CSC Division IV game Friday night. For Nichols and the Marauders the goal is to get better and make another run at a Class D Section III title and appearance at another state tournament.
“I definitely think we have what it takes,” Nichols said. “We struggle with consistency. We need to keep working hard and become more consistent. That’s the answer.”
New York Mills 66, Waterville 58
NY Mills 11 24 14 17—66
Waterville 15 12 11 20—58
NY Mills (8-2): Terry Nichols 10-0-25; Griffin Baur 3-4-10; Ben Kehrli 4-2-10; John Mitchell 4-2-10; Kenny Egan 4-0-8; Mike Copperwheat 0-3-3. Totals: 25-11-66. 3-Pointers: 5 (Nichols 5).
Waterville (5-5): Isaiha Spooner 5-6-18; Matt Batson 3-8-15; Brandon English 3-0-9; Kyle Timian 2-2-7; Nick Salm 2-1-6; Hunter Brown 1-0-3. Totals: 16-17-58. 3-Pointers: 9 (English 3, Spooner 2, Batson, Salm, Timian).