By Malcolm Butler
Too little. Too late.
And too many turnovers.
Cedar Creek rallied from six points down over the final two minutes to tie the score at 45-45 on a conventional three-point play by Brian Osborne, but two critical turnovers in the final 30 seconds were too much to overcome as the Cougars fell 48-47 to Saline in the first day of the Neill Killgore Memorial Tournament at the Brickhouse.
After playing almost a flawless first quarter and a half that saw the Cougars build a 15-6 advantage with just four minutes to play in the second quarter, Cedar Creek lost its composure with the basketball.
Saline — who was finding zero success against the Cougars man-to-man defense through the first 12 minutes — turned to full-court pressure and it worked.
With a number of Cougars in foul trouble, Saline’s pressure sped up Cedar Creej, forcing turnover after turnover after turnover and ultimately leading to some easy baskets as well as 46 free throw attempts by the visitors.
“We got into some foul trouble and our starters came out of the game,” said Creek head coach Lance Waldron. “Then when they came out of the game, they pressed us and we were not able to handle the pressure. That’s the story for the night. It was foul trouble and our inability to handle their pressure. We couldn’t do it.”
Creek still held a 17-14 lead at halftime, but the Saline pressure continued throughout the entire second half. Saline opened the second half on a 9-3 run to take a 23-20 advantage before a Jack Bell three-pointer with 4:29 to play in the third quarter tied the game again.
Back to back buckets by Connor Norris and Osborne gave Creek a 27-25 lead but turnovers and fouls allowed Saline to go on a 7-0 run to close the quarter as the Cougars trailed 32-27.
The fourth quarter was a free throw contest. Although Cedar Creek hit 10-of-11 free throws in the final quarter, Saline 15-of-23.
Saline led 40-34 with just over two minutes to play before Jack Nichols buried two free throws. Back-to-back Davis Walsworth three-pointers closed the gap to 43-42. After two free throws by Saline, Osborne drove down the lane and hit a bucket while being fouled with 45.1 seconds to play. His free throw tied the score at 45-45.
“They don’t quit,” said Waldron. “Our guys don’t quit. They fight hard. I am proud of them. I wish I could have done a better job for them. Saline did a really good job. They got us in foul trouble and then they really pressed us.”
Saline then turned the basketball over with 35 seconds to play, but the Cougars gave it right back. Saline hit 3-of-4 free throws to push the lead to 48-45 with nine seconds remaining. Osborne drove the lane and scored but the final two seconds ticked off the lock to end the game.
“The message to them after the game was that tonight was my fault,” said Waldron. “We didn’t take care of the ball and its my responsibility for the kids to take care of the ball. We have to get back to the drawing board and come up with some different ways to help them and prepare them when they are out on the floor. I don’t think our second unit was prepared. I have to figure out a way to help them perform.”
Walsworth led Creek with 15 points while Osborne added 11 and Connor Norris chipped in with 10 points.