SVCA boys come up short in 49-45 loss
STEPHENS CITY — Monday night’s boys’ basketball game between Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy and United Christian Academy went down to the wire and, like most close games that are decided in the final minutes, it came down to free throws.
Crusader guard Seth Norris hit five of his six free-throw attempts in the final minute of play to lead United to a come-from-behind 49-45 victory over the Patriots.
“We played hard through the entire game,” Crusader coach Phillip Powell said. “When you’re playing four sophomores in your top eight and they come through in the end and don’t fall apart, it was great to see.”
What made the Crusader victory even more impressive was the fact that they started three of those sophomores and trailed SVCA (2-1) for almost the entire game.
Trailing 37-31 with 6:24 left in the game, United went on a 6-0 run over the next two minutes to tie the score 37-37. Although the Patriots quickly retook the lead on a jumper by Mike Powell, the Crusaders continued to work hard to deny SVCA good shots from the field, and with just 2:06 left on the clock took their first lead, 43-42, since the early seconds of the game on a 3-point play by Norris.
When Patriot sophomore Lucas Pufnock missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:54 left, United began a stall on offense. It was a good move since SVCA had only three personal fouls up to that point in the second half.
Desperately trying to get the ball back, SVCA began to foul repeatedly to get the Crusaders to the line.
That only worked partially.
With 52 seconds left on the clock and the Crusaders clinging to a 43-42 lead, the Patriots finally were able to put a United player on the line.
Unfortunately for SVCA, that player was Norris who nailed four straight free throws to expand the Crusader lead to 47-42 with just 27 seconds left.
SVCA quickly went down the court and scored on a 3-pointer by Powell to narrow the deficit to 47-45, but two more free throws by Norris sealed SVCA’s fate.
“Norris is just a sophomore, but he’s going to be a great player for us,” Powell said. “He hit 5-of-6 free throws at the end of the ballgame and that’s what it takes to win a basketball game like this one.”
While the Crusaders were nearly perfect from the line, hitting 8 of 11, the Patriots couldn’t seem to connect consistently on their opportunities. The Patriots shot just 7 of 15 from the line, and hit only one of their four attempts in the critical fourth quarter.
“We were just 7 of 15 from the foul line,” SVCA coach Ron Combs said. “We were also 1 of 4 in the final quarter and all of those were one-and-ones. We had a chance to put them away and we missed our foul shots, missed our shots, and turned the ball over in critical moments.”
Another strategy by the Crusaders that paid off was switching to a box-and-one defense during the final minutes of the game. SVCA point guard Evan Hotek had burned United for 15 points in the first three quarters.
That changed dramatically when Crusader guard Jordan Deane began to hound Hotek wherever he went in the final period. The SVCA junior went scoreless during the final eight minutes of play, severely limiting the Patriot offense.
“We knew that if we didn’t find a way to slow him down he would either get the shot or find someone wide open to pass it to,” Powell said. “Slowing him down was a big key to this win.”
It was Hotek who drove his Patriots to an early 14-8 lead in the first quarter, hitting for five points in the first eight minutes, including the first of his two 3-pointers.
Eight more points in the second period from Hotek and his Patriots were able to hold off the Crusaders and lead 22-18 at hafttime.
Besides Hotek, two Patriots also scored in double figures as Pufnock and Powell both had 11 points for SVCA.
United was led by Norris, who scored eight of his 13 points in the final period. Cody Rowland, however, also scored 13 points for the Crusaders, including four 3-pointers.
“We really don’t have time to try to correct our mistakes in this game,” Combs said. “We have games [today] and Wednesday so we’ll have to try to correct things during the games.”