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Jan. 11, 2005

Blair rally not enough to avoid second straight loss

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Jan. 10, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM

All season long, the Blair Blazers JV boys basketball team has struggled to score points early. Tonight took the cake for early ineptness, as the team failed to record a single point in the first period of play. The hole they dug proved just too much for the Blazers to dig out of, as they fell to the Blake Bengals in overtime, 55-52.

Blair (6-3) lost their second game in a row following a six-game win streak thanks in large part to their horrid first quarter. The Blazers committed seven turnovers and went 0-5 from the floor to get shutout in a period for the first time in years.

Blazers head coach Richard Porac pointed to the deficit as the one culprit for the team's second straight home loss after Winter Break. "The difference was 14-0, he said. "You just can't spot a team- any team- a 14 point lead. I don't think this team understands the importance of starting the game and playing with urgency for all four quarters.

Matt McLain scored the first Blazer basket with 6:27 left in the second quarter, just 9:33 into the game. But once the team finally got on the board, it sparked a three-quarters long rally that eliminated the Bengals (4-5) 14-0 first quarter lead and forced overtime.

Blair scored 16 points in the second quarter, due to a more aggressive offensive attack to the goal that involved drawing fouls. In the scoreless first, the Blazers forced just one Blake foul for all eight minutes of the opening frame. Blair shaved the deficit to eight points at halftime, as they trailed 24-16.

Porac attributed the drastic turnaround to a number of factors, including the insertion of bench player Joshua Brown, as well as a new intensity, fed off of embarrassment and the frustration of their head coach. "Sometimes I've got to yell to get them fired up, Porac said.

As for Brown, he re-energized the backcourt with 10 bench points and, perhaps more remarkably, five rebounds, almost all of which were as a result of some hustle play that made Porac just stand there and smile at Brown's energy.

"Josh is one of the only guys on this team that will dive head first for a ball, and he really did a lot for us tonight, Porac said. "He instilled a sense of urgency in the rest of guys on the floor.

Blair held Blake to just nine points in the third quarter, and had shaved the deficit to just two after three periods of play, as they trailed 33-31. Their defense, according to Porac, was re-energized as a result of the scoring on the offensive end of the ball. "When you make a basket, Porac noted, "you can jump right into a pressure defense. Once we started to hit shots, the scoring equaled more pressure the other way.

The Blazers came out of the locker room energized, and opened the third on a 9-0 run, which included a three-point-play by Darius Smith. Another key factor in the comeback for Blair was the improved rebounding by Tori Patton, McLain, and Edwin Joyner. "

Blair had another 6-0 run in the fourth, and took a 40-36 lead with under five minutes left in regulation. However, Blake responded with a 7-0 run of their own, forcing another Blazer rally.

With under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Porac switched to a 2-3 zone, and Blair forced three Bengals turnovers in a 45 second span. Che Larracuente made two free throws to tie the game at 46 points apiece in the waning seconds. McLain blocked a three pointer by Blake's Eric Pugh to force overtime.

As the team headed back to the bench before the extra period, the exhaustion was obvious on the faces of the players. That tiredness was exposed in the overtime.

"After you come all the way back, Porac said, "you run out of gas. And we ran out of gas tonight in overtime.

Blake's Martin Narose scored the first four points of overtime, as the zone defense began to give way as the inside players tired and after Edwin Joyner, a junior, fouled out.

"Edwin fouling out really hurt us, Porac remarked. "I've got to have the junior leaders out on the court. After [Patton] and Edwin, we're greatly inexperienced [in the paint.]

The daggers began to get nailed into Blair's coffin after Brown stole the ball with 90 seconds left, and appeared headed for an easy lay up. However, he ran too far under the basket, and missed the close shot. Blake quickly sent the ball back the other way, and Chris Penn made a short bucket for the Bengals to extend the lead to five points.

Blair was forced to foul, and luckily for them, Blake gave them a lot of help. Still, the Blazers were unable to capitalize, shooting themselves again with turnovers.

Following a Bengal free throw miss, Blair got a three-on-one breakaway on their offensive end, and appeared headed for an easy two points that would have cut the Blake lead to just one with 47 seconds left. But Larracuente saw the pass whiz by his head and into the bleachers, much the displeasure of the home crowd.

Three more free throws iced the Bengals win, 55-52.

"Turnovers killed us again tonight. That last play killed us. We didn't even get a shot on the three-on-one, Porac said, seemingly still in disbelief about the result of that play. "We get the easy deuce, it's a whole new ball game.

Patton, Joyner and Brown had ten points each for the balanced Blair offense, while McLain scored nine, with Smith and Larracuente scoring five points each. McLain has responded to his increased role in the Blazer system by increasing his level of play, as he also brought down seven rebounds tonight.

Pugh's 17 points and five rebounds in the victory anchored Blake's offence. Penn had a double double, scoring 10 points, while also getting 13 rebounds. All this despite playing sparingly in the fourth quarter due to his getting into foul trouble. Both Penn and Sam Karim also had four steals each, and Blake had a whopping 15 in all.

There were a lot of points to be happy about tonight for Blair, but a loss is a loss in a lot of senses. What made this most painful was that the frantic rally came as a result of a horrendous first quarter that lacked one of Porac's key words, "intensity.




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