Elijah West reacts after making a play late in Oneida’s win over Wartburg on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. West left the game in the first half with a dislocated finger, but returned in the second half to have an impact on the game’s finish as the Indians rallied from 14 points down for the District 3-A win | Sarah Dunlap/IH

With just under three minutes left in the third quarter of Oneida’s District 3-A showdown with Wartburg on Tuesday, December 17, it looked like the Indians’ unbeaten start to the district slate was slipping away. Wartburg was up 43-29, and Oneida — which had been down 27-22 at halftime — just couldn’t seem to turn the tide.

But with an electrified crowd urging them on — the atmosphere at OHS Gymnasium was more reminiscent of a February district game than one being played before the Christmas break — the Indians were able to do just that.

With junior Kolby Morgan taking the game over, the Indians closed the third quarter on a 16-8 run, trimming Wartburg’s lead to just six. Then they kept it going in the fourth quarter, tying the game in the waning seconds and getting it to overtime, where they prevailed with a 79-76 win over their old rival.

Morgan finished with 38 points and 12 rebounds — a career night for a player who has proven himself among the best in District 3-A. But there were a lot of storylines on this night.

Already short-handed — Oneida will be without senior big man Dalton Yancey for six weeks after he suffered a fractured wrist — the Indians were left even more short-handed when Elijah West dislocated a finger early in the first half. West would leave the game — and the gym — for medical treatment to reset his finger, but returned to play a pivotal role late in the game.

At halftime, the Indians were reeling. They were shooting 7 of 8 from the free throw line, but that was just about the only bright spot. They were just 8 of 27 from the field, had not made a 3-point shot, and had more turnovers — 11 — than made baskets. Wartburg had been successful in shutting down their leading scorer, junior point guard Nathan Bowling, limiting him to a pair of free throws in the first half.

But the momentum began to shift in the third quarter. Morgan scored on an and-one early in the period, which seemed like a statement of sorts. For a while, Wartburg was able to match Oneida blow-for-blow, even extending its lead, mostly because Tyler Davis — who had a team-high 20 points — scored 11 points in the third quarter. But, ultimately, Morgan — with just enough help from his teammates — wore the Bulldogs down.

Morgan scored 13 points in the third period — he had 31 in the second half as a whole — and Bowling began to find a way to beat the Wartburg defense, scoring six of his own. He would also finish with a double-double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while also blocking five shots.

Andrew Dewitt, making the start at the post because Jordan Perry was suffering from illness, had 13 rebounds.

While Perry was obviously slowed by sickness in the first half, he began to find a rhythm as the game progressed, finishing with nine points. He hit both ends of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 31 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.

As for West, he re-entered the game midway through the second half, and immediately began to have an impact. He scored two big buckets in the fourth quarter, then tied up the ball under the basket with 13 seconds remaining to give Oneida possession and prevent the Bulldogs from winning in regulation. 

Overtime was more of the same: A lot of Kolby Morgan, with just enough Nate Bowling, Jordan Perry and Elijah West mixed in.

The free throw line was Wartburg’s biggest nemesis. The Bulldogs missed 5 of 9 attempts in the fourth quarter, and finished the game just 9 of 23 from the stripe. Oneida, by contrast, was 13 of 19 from the line.

Meanwhile, the Indians’ shooting — so abysmal in the first half — dramatically improved in the second half. While Oneida was just 2 of 15 from 3-point range for the game, the Indians were 22 of 35 from inside the perimeter in the second half, including 6 of 7 in overtime. They had been just 8 of 27 inside the arch in the first half.

Wartburg also struggled from 3-point range, going 5 of 22 from there.

The two teams will rematch on January 31 in Wartburg.

ONEIDA (79): Morgan 38, Huling 12, Bowling 11, Perry 9, West 6, Dewitt 4, Marcum 3.

WARTBURG (76): Davis 20, Justes 13, Hamby 12, Langley 11, McCarty 9, Carroll 5, Johnson 4.