O'Neal Wins Thriller on the Road
With 4:31 remaining in Tuesday's road game at Harrells Christian Academy, O'Neal School boys' basketball coach Casey Coleman called timeout.
He had watched a 16-4 lead dwindle to 37-36 midway through a fourth quarter in which his Falcons had already turned the ball over five times.
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 on their way to 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 after the game. The Falcons improved to 5-8 overall and 1-2 in conference play with the win.
The final four minutes of the fourth quarter 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 the advantage 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-all 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 with 15 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Schoemmell rebounded a Bullard miss and was fouled with three seconds showing on the clock, 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 each contributed crucial defensive rebounds down the stretch while containing a taller Harrells front line.
O'Neal was 10-of-12 from the free throw line for the game, while Harrells made 14-of-21 from the charity stripe.
The Falcons led 16-4 with 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, Harrells opened the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to one point. The Crusaders would tie the game twice in the fourth quarter but never took the lead.
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 added 13 points, as the two seniors combined for all but two of the Lady Falcons' 31 points.
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