PUTNAM — Kyle Kessler nailed a 16-foot jumper with 5.1 seconds remaining in the game to lift the Wheeler High boys basketball team over Putnam, 51-50, in the play-in round of the ECC North Division tournament Wednesday night.

Kessler finished with 14 points, including two 3-pointers, and seven assists in the victory, the first of the season for the ninth-seeded Lions.

The No. 8 Clippers hit a 3-pointer to lead 50-49 with about 18 seconds left that set up Kessler's heroics.

The freshman guard "brought the ball down with daggers in his eyes, got it back and drilled it from about 16 feet from the wing," Lions coach Neal Cobleigh said. "It was nothing but net."

Putnam got off an off-balance runner in the lane as time ran out, Cobleigh said, but it missed.

Wheeler (1-6) advanced to play at No. 1 Woodstock on Friday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinals.

The Lions overcame a nine-point first half to beat Putnam (3-7). Down 27-9 at the break, the Lions outscored the Clippers, 42-23, the rest of the way.

"We were dead in the water," Cobleigh said. "I give credit to my assistant coaches who saw things with presses we could take advantage of. The kids really executed in the second half. They played their butts off.

"In the second half they decided to play hard, and that was the difference. When you play hard, you get stops and shots go in."

Lukas Jones "stepped up big," Cobleigh said, with 15 points on five 3-pointers, including two in the fourth quarter from deep, and center Nick Larkin had his second straight game with a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds).

Colby Livingston led the Clippers with a game-high 22 points.

— Ken Sorensen

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