DUBLIN — An early blowout turned into a late barn-burner, as East Bladen fought back from an 18-point deficit and got a block at the buzzer by Eathan Hines of a potential game-winning shot to nip West Bladen 54-53 in a Four County Conference matchup on Wednesday.
The Eagles, winners of three straight conference games, are now 8-7 overall and 3-4 in the conference; the Knights tumble to 10-7 overall and 4-3 in the conference with the loss.
Things couldn’t have started worse for visiting East Bladen. After Jaquan Jones put up the first points for the Eagles, West Bladen went on a 16-0 run with a cascade of three-pointers off the fingertips of Rahu Purdie, Stefan McDonald, Malcolm Vaught and Purdie again for a 16-2 lead.
East Bladen didn’t score again until 45 seconds were left in the quarter, and the Knights closed out the period with a 3-0 spurt on a basket by Brandon Council and free throw by Vaught to take a 19-4 edge into the second quarter.
The next 8 minutes were a back and forth affair, with neither team putting together more than a 4-0 run. The Knights opened their largest lead of the game at 25-7 early in the second stanza on baskets by McDonald and Purdie, but East Bladen began to generate offense and outscored the Knights by a 10-5 margin to end the half and trail by 30-17 at intermission.
“We worked on things we needed to do tonight for the past two days,” said East Bladen coach Ken Cross. “But they still aren’t getting it.”
The second half would prove otherwise.
The two teams traded free throws and three-pointers — by Corbin Stanley for West Bladen and Davonta Smith for East Bladen — to open the second half before the Eagles went on a 6-0 spurt, fueled by another three-pointer by Smith, to close the deficit to 35-27. The Knights closed out the third quarter with a 6-2 run thanks to a three-pointer from Nate Pryor and took a 41-30 lead into the fourth quarter.
And a frenetic fourth quarter it was.
Free throws by Hines opened the quarter, but Vaught canned a basket and free throw to put West Bladen up 44-32. Smith buried another three-pointer for the Eagles and Hines hit a basket that cut the deficit to 44-37. After a free throw by Council for the Knights, Monterro Graham hit a pair of free throws and Hines banked in a basket for East Bladen to cut the Knights’ lead to 45-41.
Stanley and McDonald each hit baskets for West Bladen to extend the lead out to 49-41, but Eian Hines scored a bucket and Jones hit a free throw and basket at the 2:10 mark to pull the Eagles to within 49-46. A technical foul was called against a West Bladen player and Alex Stephens hit one of two free throws for the Eagles. Jones took the inbounds pass and charged through the lane to bank in a shot that knotted the game at 49-49.
As time ticked down, Vaught scored a basket for West Bladen that was quickly matched by Eathan Hines for the Eagles. Purdie nailed a bucket for the Knights, but Stephens canned one at the other end for East Bladen to keep the score tied at 53-53.
A foul by West Bladen with mere seconds left to play put Jones on the line, and he managed to sink one — which turned out to be the winning point.
The Knights brought the ball quickly upcourt and called timeout with 1.7 seconds showing. When play resumed, the ball was sent to the top of the key for Purdie, who immediately went up for a shot — but Eathan Hines also went airborne and cleanly blocked the shot just before the buzzer sounded.
“It’s a good win for us,” said Cross. “Hopefully this will help propel us further along.”
West Bladen coach Travis Pait was discouraged with the loss.
“Selfish acts lost us the game,” he said. “There were a lot of touch fouls called against us, but this was still a game we let get away.”
Jones led east Bladen with 15 points, while Eathan Hines added 12 — eight coming in the fourth quarter. Smith scored nine points on a trio of three-pointers for the Eagles.
For West Bladen, Purdie led the Knights with 14 points and McDonald contributed 11. Vaught scored nine for West Bladen.