After picking up five straight victories in early January to get its season back on track, Eastern Alamance’s men’s basketball team headed to Elon Friday night for a key Mid-State Conference showdown against arch rival Western Alamance.
The Eagles, who had gotten revenge the night before against Southern Alamance for a loss earlier in the season, didn’t show any ill effects of back-to-back games, outplaying the 11-2 Warriors for much of the night. But in what turned into a memorable classic, the Eagles were unable to hang on, dropping a disappointing 48-46 final to the Warriors in double overtime.
Eastern scored the game’s first three points on a left-handed drive and layin by Alik Lewis, and a free throw by Elijah Burnette. But Western scored nine of the next 11 points on a pair of 3-pointers, a basket and a free throw. Darius Kane converted a coast-to-coast layup with under a minute to play in the first quarter, but the Eagles trailed the Warriors, 13-7, heading into the second quarter.
Kane buried a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the second period, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 13-10, and Lewis scored four points on two free throws and a layup, pulling the Eagles within one at 15-14. Nick Blackwell tied the game 17-17 with a 3-pointer at the 5:15 mark of the second period, and then converted an offensive rebound and putback to give EAHS its first lead of the quarter - 19- 17 - with four minutes to go before halftime.
Kane came through with a fast break basket while getting fouled at the 3:07 mark, which forced a Western timeout with the Eagles ahead, 21-17. Kane added a free throw at the 1:19 mark, which gave EAHS a 22-17 advantage, but a 3-pointer pulled the Warriors within 22-20 at halftime.
As the second half began, Burnette gave Eastern a 24-20 lead on a steal and layup, but a goaltending violation on the Eagles kept Western within a basket.
The third quarter turned into a defensive stalemate, with both teams missing numerous scoring chances. The two team exchanged free throws midway through the period, and a baseline drive by Kane made the score 28-23 with 1:40 remaining in the quarter.
Then, with under a minute to play in the third quarter came one of a number of controversial calls down the stretch. Burnette seemed to get “all ball” on a deflection of a Shane Peterson 3-pointer attempt for the Warriors. But instead of the Eagles moving downcourt in transition following a blocked shot, Peterson went to the line for three free throws. He made two, pulling Western within just three points - 28-25 - heading into the fourth quarter. This sequence played a key role in the game’s final outcome.
Peterson came through with a 3-point play for the Warriors in the opening 30 seconds of the final period, which tied the game at 28-28. A pair of free throws by Burnette regained the lead for the Eagles, and Lewis turned a drive into a successful runner through the free throw late for a 32-28 EAHS lead with 6:05 to go in regulation. Moments later, a one-handed lefty floater by Kane inched the Eagles lead up to 34-28 with 5:40 remaining. A pair of free throws by Evan Mann at the 4:41 mark pushed the Eastern lead out to eight points - 36-28.
Western, however, refused to give in, scoring on a drive and basket at the 4:30 mark, and then converting a stunning 4-point play, as Peterson was once again fouled while attempting a 3-pointer. This time Peterson made the shot, and his subsequent free throw pulled the Warriors within two, 36-34. Then the Warriors got a steal from Jackson Dobson, whose layup tied the game at 36-36 and sent the Western supporters into a frenzy.
The game wound down into the final minute with the score still tied at 36-36, before Dobson came through with the first of multiple clutch plays down the stretch. Dobson converted a lane runner with 35 seconds left in regulation, giving the Warriors a 38-36 lead. The Eagles came down and Lewis missed a jump shot, but Mann got a critical offensive rebound. Mann was fouled in the act of shooting, and went to the line for a pair of vital attempts with only 8.5 seconds on the clock, and the Eagles trailing by two points.
Mann showed tremendous poise by stepping up and calmly draining both free throws, tying the game yet again at 38-38, and forcing the first overtime. Dobson had a chance to win it for the Warriors at the end of regulation - and some Western fans wanted a goaltending call on the Eagles on Dobson’s missed layup attempt - but the game nonetheless went into its first 4-minute extra session.
In the initial overtime, Lewis came through with a steal for the Eagles and attempted a layup, but Blackwell grabbed a missed shot and scored on a putback, giving Eastern a 40-38 lead. After Western missed two free throws, Kane drove all the way to the basket and scored for a 42-38 EAHS lead with 3:10 on the clock. After the two teams missed scoring opportunities, Western got a much-needed basket with 1:49 remaining, pulling within 42-40 and quickly calling a timeout.
On another fateful play that didn’t go Eastern’s way, Lewis lost control of the ball around midcourt and was called for a foul trying to retrieve it. Peterson sank a pair of free throws at the 1:34 mark, and the game was tied once again, 42-42. Kane was called for a charge at the 1:15 mark, and Western Alamance chose to hold for the last shot. In a crazy final sequence, both teams missed a pair of desperation halfcourt shots, and the contest was headed into double overtime still tied, 42-42.
In the second overtime, Eastern got the ball and ran off nearly two minutes from the clock. Lewis went for a layup but the shot didn’t fall, and Western grabbed the rebound. Following a timeout at the 1:36 mark, the Eagles drew a fifth personal foul on Burnette at the 1:02 mark. Logan Adams made the first free throw for the Warriors, giving the home team a 43-42 lead, but missed the second.
The Eagles came down and took control, with Mann getting the ball and scoring on a baseline runner with just under a minute to go. Mann’s score gave EAHS a 44-43 lead, but it was only a brief lead. The Warriors got the ball to Dobson, one of their senior leaders who has come up in multiple clutch situations this season. Once again Dobson made a key play, scoring in the paint on a lane drive while getting fouled with 38.4 seconds left. Although he missed the subsequent free throw, Dobson’s basket regained a one-point lead for the Warriors.
The Eagles caught a break with 34.8 seconds to play, as Adams was called for a foul for Western after nearly forcing a steal. Kane went to the line and sank a pair, and the Eagles once again led, 46-45.
Western came out of a timeout and got what they wanted - a high-percentage scoring opportunity near the basket. Another WAHS senior - Gavion Taylor - dropped in a layup with only 1.8 ticks on the clock, forcing Eastern head coach Jay McPherson to call a timeout.
The Eagles had one last chance, but the ball slipped on the inbounds pass and sailed into the crowd. The Warriors made one last free throw and claimed a 48-46 triumph over the Eagles.
Despite the loss, however, EAHS once again proved it can play with the top teams in the Mid-State Conference. Eastern is 5-2 since the return of Darius Kane, who missed the early part of the season after suffering a collarbone injury during the state football playoffs. Kane, a 1,000-yard receiver as a sophomore this fall, had 20 points Friday night to lead EAHS.
The Eagles, 5-8 overall and 2-4 in league play, return to action Tuesday night with a home game against McMichael. It will be another chance for EAHS, the defending Mid-State Conference champions, to gain some ground and get back in the playoff hunt. McMichael is currently tied with Western and Morehead - who the Eagles defeated earlier this month - for second place in the Mid-State standings with identical 4-2 records.