Warriors Come Up Short in Tournament Championship
February 18, 2012By Jim Scruggs of Western Alamance High School
Time waits for no one, no favors has he
Time Waits for No One - the Rolling Stones ã€€
Time Waits for No One - the Rolling Stones
This was to be Western’s time. Time for payback for the double-overtime loss just 2 weeks ago. Time to even the score with Northern the only team to sweep the series this year. Time to avenge the 2 football losses that ended the football season for the Warriors. Time for a championship. 32 minutes to play, a lifetime to remember.
Alas, it was not to be, this time.
Western ran out of time as AJ Clark’s potential game-tying three pointer was blocked (or was he fouled?) by Northern’s Daniel Downing, just as the time on the clock, and Western’s hopes of a tournament championship, simultaneously expired.
It was a great championship environment. Western brought a huge contingent of fans, most of whom were primed for the chance to finally defeat its nemesis, Northern Guilford, the school that seems to consistently challenge Western for athletic supremacy in the Mid State 3-A Conference.
The Warriors seized the early advantage, taking a quick 8-3 lead in the early going. Both teams were utilizing a lot of zone defense, and both teams‘ defenses seemed to effectively protect against drives and dictate that outside shooting may be crucial, but more on that later. Both teams seemed a little tentative, perhaps sensing the importance of the moment, however, Western was the aggressor throughout. AJ Clark’s 8 points in the quarter helped Western enjoy breathing room and an 18-11 after the first 8 minutes of play.
In the 2nd quarter fouls began to mount for both teams with BJ Bunn going to the bench with his 2nd at the 7:25 mark. Despite the fouls, both teams upped the defensive intensity. In one spectacular sequence Northern’s lightening fast T.J. Logan had an apparent snow bird blocked from behind by a hustling AJ Clark. It was a championship-level play and it brought the throng of Warrior fans to their feet in appreciation of so exemplary an effort. Western led throughout the quarter and went into the locker room at the half leading by 6, 27-21. It probably should have been more as Western clearly was the better team in the first 16 minutes.
Things changed quickly in the 3rd quarter as Northern, somewhat lethargic in the first half, found a renewed energy after halftime and became the aggressor with big man Malik Prioleau exerting himself both offensively and defensively. Suddenly, T J Logan found an opening and drove the ball to the rim on the break and Northern had its first lead since the opening minute of the game when it led 3-0. Northern was getting the ball inside and getting to the line and Western was beginning to show signs of fatigue. AJ was fouled on a 3 and converted all 3 free throws to tie it at 32 but Western was having trouble defending the bigger Northern front line and the Nighthawks took a 35-34 lead going into the final stanza.
BJ Bunn snaked in a basket under heavy duress allowing Western to draw first blood in the 4th quarter and reclaim the lead, 36-35. By now both teams were spreading the court on offense, hoping to draw defenders away from the painted area and into the open court where there would be dribble-drive opportunities for the guards. Northern, in a really good coaching move, chose to match up out of their zone with an extra player staying in contact with AJ, limiting his scoring opportunities and forcing someone else to beat them. It was nip and tuck basketball with both teams trading baskets. Finally Northern established some separation when John McBeth (to later be named tournament MVP) drained 2 free throws and pushed the Nighthawks ahead by 5, 42-37, with only 2:20 to play. AJ And TJ Logan traded baskets and another basket by AJ was waived off due to a charging call. Northern’s Malik Prioleau hit 2 free throws to give them a a 46-39 lead with 1:47 to go but then fouled out on the next play. After TJ Harris hit 1 of 4 free throws in a wild, multi-possession exchange, Andre Saunders found BJ Bunn for a basket, cutting the deficit to 4, 46-42, with 55 seconds left.
After Daniel Downing hit 2 from the charity stripe, AJ answered at the other end with a lay-up making it 48-44, Northern, with 30.8 seconds remaining. Northern’s DJ Arenda hit 2 freebies and on the ensuing play AJ was fouled attempting a 3. He made all 3 free throws and suddenly it was a 1 possession game, 50-47, with 11.8 seconds remaining. Northern in bounded and Western immediately fouled John McBeth. He missed both shots! Western rebounded and worked the ball up court looking for an opening. A three would tie it. With time running out AJ found himself with a sliver of room just outside the 3-point line. As he rose to launch the potential game tying shot, Northern’s Daniel Downing came flying at him, blocking the shot, but (apparently) getting a good chunk of AJ in the process. No call. Game over. No time on the clock. Northern wins, 50-47. The end-game was a somewhat frantic scene: Coach Wayne Stevens pleading for a call; the officials running off the floor; a brief altercation between the Northern bench and some Western fans, school and law enforcement officials trying to restore order; bedlam; anger; sadness. All of it at the same time.
It was the 3rd time this year that Western tasted defeat at the hands of Northern.
AJ Clark led all scorers with 21. BJ Bunn added 12. Both were named to the All Tournament Team.
Western heads into the state playoffs with a record of 18-8. It has been a good season and it is not over yet. Hopefully Western will open state play at home but the pairings are yet to be announced. Time will tell.