ELIZABETHTOWN — West Bladen lived and nearly died by the free-throw sword Thursday, escaping the Eagles Nest with a 50-49 Four County Conference win over East Bladen.
The Knights finished the regular-season with an 18-6 mark overall, 9-5 in the conference. The Eagles fell to 6-16 overall, 3-11 in conference.
West Bladen was a paltry 17-for-38 from the charity stripe in the game, but Stefan McDonald canned three of his final four free throws — the last one coming with less than a second on the clock — to give the Knights the win.
West Bladen opened the game with a 6-1 spurt that included four free throws. The Eagles got a basket by Ethan Hines and a three-pointer by J.R Robinson to knit the game at 6-6, but the Knights finished the first quarter with a 5-0 run on a three-pointer by John Bowen and two free throws by Sayaun Dent for an 11-6 edge.
A three-pointer by Will Lambeth opened the second stanza for West Bladen and was answered moments later by a three-pointer from Sincere Smith for East Bladen. But a breakaway dunk by Shaquille Johnson gave the Knights a 19-11 edge before the Eagles went on a 9-0 burst that put them up, 20-19.
East Bladen closed out the half with a 22-21 lead.
“I’m not sure what happened (in the second quarter). It was pretty ragged,” said West Bladen coach Travis Pait. “We have to start scoring. I know that’s a bad answer, but I’m not sure what else to say.”
East Bladen coach Ken Cross was relatively happy with his team’s effort in the first half.
“We’re moving the ball well, but our shots weren’t falling,” he said. “We’re going to have to shoot better in the second half.”
The two teams all but traded points in the third quarter, with the Eagles protecting a slim lead throughout most of the quarter. Dent opened the half with a basket to put West Bladen up, 23-22, but it was short-lived. Free throws by brothers Ethan and Eian Hines gave East Bladen a 25-23 edge and, after a Dent basket tied the game, the Eagles got consecutive three-pointers from Denzel Johnson to go up by 31-25.
McDonald responded with a three-pointer, but Adonis Avery drained a three-pointer for East to offset it. Johnson and Bowen canned baskets for West that pulled the Knights to within 34-32 before Eian Hines hit a basket for the Eagles and Lambeth canned a bucket for the Knights to close the quarter with East Bladen up, 36-34.
Ethan Hines opened the fourth period with a basket for the Eagles, but West Bladen hit four free throws to knot the game at 38-38. Eian Hines canned a bucket and Dent answered with a basket at the other end before Robinson drained a pair of free throws for East Bladen. The Knights manufactured a 5-0 spurt behind baskets from Dent and McDonald, along with a free throw by Johnson and took a slim 45-42 edge.
In the meantime, both Ethan Hines and Dayvon Powell fouled out for the Eagles midway through the quarter.
East Bladen came back strong with a three-pointer by Smith and basket by Eian Hines to take a 47-45 lead. McDonald knotted the game with a basket and Smith canned two free throws to give East Bladen the lead back with 44 seconds to play.
McDonald drove the lane and was fouled with 17 seconds left, and proceeded to sink both shots to tie the game at 49-49. After and East Bladen miss, McDonald brought the ball across midcourt but lost the handle. In the dive to regain possession, he was fouled with .6 seconds showing and was given two shots.
McDonald rimmed out the first free throw and, after a timeout, sank the game-winner.
“Those were huge free throws by Stefan to hit three of four,” Pait said. “It’s crazy, we can go one game and hit 75 percent (of free throws) and the next game not hit 50 percent.
“But East Bladen played real well,” he added. “They were well-prepared, were patient and shot well in the second half.”
Dent led West Bladen with 16 points and added five rebounds. McDonald scored 15 points and had three steals, while Johnson scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds. Bowen and Lambeth each scored five points with a three-pointer.
East Bladen was led by Eian Hines and Robinson with 10 points each. Johnson scored eight points and Ethan Hines had seven points, while Avery added five points.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.