By Malcolm Butler
After Connor Johnson hit two free throws with 1.2 seconds to play to give Cedar Creek a four-point lead, it appeared as though the win was in the bag for the Cougars over their rival from Ouachita Christian.
That is until the Cougars lost their composure.
After OCS inbounded the ball in the backcourt, a foul was whistled on a meaningless attempt to block a 50-foot desperation shot and then a technical foul on the Cougars followed for a verbal altercation.
It gave the Eagles five free throws and a chance to win the game with just .2 seconds to play.
It was almost a catastrophic ending for the Cougars (10-12, 3-3).
However, OCS guard Luke Melton missed all three free throws (Tate Hamby followed by making both technical free throws), sealing the 59-57 victory for Creek.
It was almost a lesson learned the hard — no the excruciating way — for head coach Lance Waldron’s bunch.
“We are fortunate that we came away with a win,” said Waldron. “If we hadn’t come away with that win, a loss like this would scare you for the rest of your life. We have been stressing all year to keep our composure, and I think our emotions finally got the best of us at the end of this one. It’s such a huge rivalry.
“I think we were provoked a little bit, and we retaliated and we shouldn’t have. We should be able to maintain our composure a little bit better.”
The final few minutes of the game saw the two teams trade blows and the lead.
Creek led 54-51 after Connor Norris hit 1-of-2 at the free throw line with 59 seconds to play following a steal. However, a foul by Creek on OCS’s ensuing possession sent Hamby to the free throw line with 33 seconds remaining. The Eagles top player hit the first and missed the second. However, OCS pulled down the offensive rebound, kicked it out and then buried a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 55-54 advantage.
That’s when the Eagles (3-11, 1-4) lost their cool as Hamby was whistled for a technical foul. Davis Walsworth hit 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game at 55-55 and the Cougars maintained possession of the ball.
Following a timeout, Creek ran down the clock under 10 seconds and Johnson hit a short floater with 8.8 seconds remaining to give the Cougars a 57-55 advantage. OCS immediately inbounded the ball and threw it up court to an open player who missed a potential game-tying layup and Johnson pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 1.2 seconds to play, setting up the game-closing mayhem.
“We got a win on the road,” said Waldron. “There were a lot of lessons learned and fortunately we learned them and still got a win. They are a little bit easier to take when you get a win.”
The Cougars built an early 13-7 advantage in the first quarter before OCS used a 13-0 run over a five-minute stretch to pull out to a 20-13 lead. The Eagles led 29-22 at the break as Creek struggled to score the ball.
“We showed some grit and determination,” said Waldron. “We had some guys in foul trouble in the first half. Davis missed a lot of the first half and that hurt. Going into the game we really wanted to shoot the ball well from the outside, from the three-point line and we didn’t in the first half. They do a good job of packing it in with a couple of big kids in the middle. It causes you to have to shoot the three-pointer.
“We felt going in we needed to shoot the ball well in order to have a chance to win on the road. And we didn’t, especially in the first half. The only way to counter that is to create turnovers and score in transition and we did that in the second half. We forced some turnovers and got some transition buckets and got back into the game.”
Creek came out of the halftime locker room and put a strong third quarter together, outscoring OCS 16-8 to take a 38-37 lead into the fourth quarter. The Cougars got contributions throughout its lineup in the third quarter, including a layup by Carter Hill with 1 minute to play after a steal and an assist by Norris. Walsworth gave the Cougars the one-point lead with a layup in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
“The turnovers really kept us in the game,” said Waldron.
The fourth quarter saw six lead changes and three ties before the Cougars hung on to complete the series sweep over the Eagles.
Walsworth led Creek with 18 points while Hill added 12 points and Norris chipped in with 10 points.
Hamby led OCS with 28.
Cedar Creek hit 19-of-31 free throws in the game while OCS was just 8-of-23 from the charity stripe.
The Cougars Family Community in non-district action Friday at 7 p.m.