O'Neal Wins Thriller on the Road
With 4:31 remaining in Tuesday night’s road game at Harrells Christian Academy, O’Neal School boys’ basketball coach Casey Coleman called timeout.
He had watched a once 16-4 lead dwindle to 37-36, and his Falcons had already turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter alone.
The fourth quarter has been an Achilles’ heel for O’Neal of late. Last week, the Falcons dropped their first two conference games in excruciatingly close fashion, with turnovers and missed free throws being the common denominator both times.
“I told them, ‘We’ve been here before in close games. We just need to finish,’” Coleman said of the timeout.
His team finally took that step. The Falcons turned the ball over only two more times and made all eight of their free throws in the fourth quarter to squeak out a 47-46 win, their first in Cape Fear Independent Conference play.
“As sloppy as it is, I’ll take it any day of the week,” Coleman said, as his team improved to 5-8 overall and 1-2 in conference play.
The final four minutes featured a resilient O’Neal squad that had all the answers for an impressive offensive display from Harrells sharpshooter Conner Bullard, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
O’Neal took a 41-39 lead on a John Schoemmell basket with 2:32 remaining and extended it to four points on a pair of Corbin O’Donnell free throws, only to watch Bullard knock down four free throws in a row to tie the game at 43-43 with 36 seconds to play.
The Crusaders promptly called timeout and retook the court in a 1-2-2 press, which almost trapped O’Neal’s Jide Lawal in the left corner. But the senior guard pivoted away from the trap and passed to freshman forward Jacob Talbert, who made a contested layup to give the Falcons a 45-43 lead.
Schoemmell rebounded a Bullard miss at the other end of the court and was fouled with three seconds remaining, making both free throws to extend the lead to 47-43. Ultimately, the Falcons would need both points, as Bullard’s final heave banked through the net as the final buzzer sounded.
“That’s what won the ballgame; we finally hit our free throws,” Coleman said. “We’ve been struggling with that all year long, and it’s cost us a couple of times.”
Chris Payton led the Falcons with 12 points, and Schoemmell added 11. Lawal finished with seven points, Talbert had six and O’Donnell finished with five. Schoemmell, Talbert and O’Donnell grabbed crucial defensive rebounds down the stretch while containing a taller Harrells front line.
The Falcons led 16-4 with over four minutes to play in the second quarter and took a 22-10 lead into halftime. They led 35-24 at the end of the third quarter, but using an effective pressure defense, the Crusaders opened the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run.
O’Neal is back in action Friday at Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville.
The varsity Lady Falcons fell 50-31 earlier in the night.
Katie Jenkins led O’Neal with 16 points, including five three-pointers, and Ellen Cowherd scored 13 points, as the two seniors combined for all but two of the Lady Falcons’ points.
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