Grant Hull knew if he didn't shoot, he wouldn't play.
So the 6-foot-2 Norwalk senior pulled up at the top of the key for Norwalk's first shot of the game, draining a 3-pointer for the Truckers in the opening seconds of their state semifinal game against Dayton Thurgood Marshall Thursday at Ohio State University's Value City Arena.
It was only the beginning for Hull, who finished with 17 points, including six free throws in the closing minute, as Norwalk topped the Cougars 72-64 to advance to Saturday's Div. II championship game.
“It got my confidence up, because the past couple of games I haven't shot well at all, so to see that first one go through, kind of made the hoop look bigger for me,” Hull said after finishing 5-of-9 from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the line.
“I think just that first shot going down really snowballed into the next couple shots going in,” Hull said.
“I was nervous because it’s the state semis on top of everything else, but also because I have been struggling a little bit,” he added. “I think I calmed down and stopped thinking so much and that helped me shoot it like I know I am capable of.”
Norwalk standouts Ben Haraway and Jeff Thomas had their usual superb nights, scoring 20 points, respectively. But it was evident early in Thursday’s semifinal, that another scorer needed to emerge.
“Grant is the best shooter in the (Northern Ohio League) and he has really been struggling the last month,” Norwalk coach Steve Gray said. “We had a little heart-to-heart talk before the (regional final) Lima Bath game and it went something like this: ‘You turn down a shot, I’m taking you out. I don’t care how many you miss, you are going to shoot it.’ He was big time for us today.”
Hull led the NOL in 3-point shooting this year, going 52-of-116 from (45 percent) behind the arc, but had a scoring slump in the postseason.
He combined for 19 points in Norwalk’s two sectional games, but scored just 20 points combined in the last four games as the Truckers won district and regional championships.
“It gives me a sense of relief to just let it fly and not think about it, because my coach has confidence in me,” Hull said of Gray’s postseason pep talk. “Whatever he needs me to do to help the team win, which is usually shooting, I’m more than willing to do, even if I have an off night. I’ve been struggling the last couple of games but (my teammates) never lost faith in me. They kept telling me to keep shooting, and it finally started to go down today.”
Down by five with 4:52 left in the third quarter, Norwalk went on a 15-5 run to close the third quarter, with four points coming from Hull. His steal and layup put the Truckers up 46-43 with just over two minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Truckers had a 65-59 lead with 40 seconds left in the game, forcing the Cougars to foul. Hull connected on all six of his free throws in the final 40 seconds.
“The last six free throws I made felt great because in the regional final game I missed four free throws at the end,” Hull said. “I didn’t want that to happen again. I made sure to concentrate and knock those down.”
The Truckers take on Columbus Bishop Watterson — the defending state champions — at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center.
“We are always confident,” Hull said. “The way we defend and the way we are capable of rebounding, we are confident we can be in any game. If our shots are falling, we are one of the best teams in the state.”