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Jan. 13, 2006

Bulldogs bounce Blazers in a heartbreaker

by Abe Schwadron, Online Managing Editor
JAN. 6, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM -

Losing streaks are never fun. So when the JV boys' basketball team left the court on Wednesday night after losing their third straight game, head coach Emanuel Charles could only find one word to describe his emotions. "Terrible," said Charles. "Just terrible." The Blazers' fell to the Churchill Bulldogs, 56-53, in a game highlighted by an uptempo style and lights-out shooting from both teams.

The agonizing loss featured another furious start but lazy finish by the Blazers, who ran their record to 4-5 on the season. Guard Quentin Snively blamed the Blazers' loss on sloppy second-half play and lazy defense. "We were basically being lazy. It's the same thing that happened last game. We were just spotting them points," said Snively.

Despite the Blazers' lack of effort on the defensive end, Snively and company found themselves down just three points with 15 seconds to play in the game. But the Bulldogs shut down Blair's last attempt at tying the score, forcing sophomore Che Larracuente to launch a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer that clanged off the rim. "We had some opportunities at the end, but couldn't execute," said Charles.

Blair came out of the blocks strong, opening the game with a high level of intensity and working the ball inside on offense. Freshman center Leon Sampson scored the Blazers' first bucket of the game just seconds into the first quarter, hitting a layup off a smooth dish from Snively. A slew of turnovers by the Blazers' guards prompted Charles to rely on his big men early in the game. Sophomore Mohamed Mansaray showed off his leaping ability, grabbing offensive rebounds and finishing with six of the Blazers' twelve points in the quarter. Despite playing a frantic pace that suited Churchill's quick guards, the Blazers led 12-11 after the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Blair continued to play fast, scoring on the fast break and sharing the ball. Freshman Wayne Henderson soared through the lane for a highlight-reel left-handed layup with 3:30 to go in the quarter, putting the Blazers up by six, their largest lead of the game. But Blair allowed Churchill's guards to penetrate too easily and continued to turn the ball over on offense, allowing the Bulldogs to creep back within one. Going into halftime, the Blazers clung to a 23-22 lead.

The Blazers' opened the third quarter with a surge of energy, scoring on consecutive layups by Mansaray, including one off a spectacular no-look pass from Snively. But with three and a half minutes to play in the quarter and the Blazers holding a six-point lead, Churchill charged back into the game, converting a three-point play and a three-pointer on consecutive possessions, tying the game at 33. One minute later, Churchill took a 35-33 lead, and Blair's lagging intensity on defense allowed the Bulldogs to finish the quarter leading 40-37.

Charles called the third quarter combustion an embarrassment on the defensive end. "[The Bulldogs] weren't even fast-breaking. They ran the floor after they scored, and we weren't getting back on defense," he said.

Snively and Larracuente paced the Blazers in the fourth quarter, scoring nine and seven points in the period respectively. But the rest of the Blazers' failed to contribute much to their efforts, allowing Churchill open looks from the perimeter on nearly every Bulldogs possession and looking stagnant on offense. "They put on the 3-2 [zone] and we failed to execute the high-low [offense]," said Charles.

With under a minute to play, the Blazers had possession, trailing 53-50. After a broken play, the ball squirted out to Snively, who fired a deep three-pointer that swished in to tie the ballgame. After a Churchill basket and a Blair foul, the Bulldogs made one of two free throws to go up 56-53.

Down three points with 15 seconds to go, coach Charles called a timeout to set up one last play. Every man, woman and child in the gymnasium knew the ball would go to Snively, who had hit 3 three-pointers in the quarter. Snively brought the ball downcourt, allowing the clock to run to ten seconds. But when he weaved around a pick to launch a shot, he was confronted by a swarm of Bulldogs. Snively passed the rock to Larracuente, who—after a missed foul call—threw up the Blazers' last hope from beyond the arc, missing at the buzzer and giving Churchill the 56-53 win.

The Blazers' last possession wasn't exactly what Charles had drawn up during the timeout. "I was supposed to go to the basket and draw the man," said Snively, who was double-teamed on the wing. "When the ball got back to the top, the guys got nervous. [Che] had to heave it up at the end," said Charles.

Blair's fifth loss of the season was not without high notes, though, as Mansaray, Snively and Larracuente had impressive individual performances. Mansaray, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, drew praise from Snively for his passionate play. "He's not scared. He pushes other people around. That's what we all need to do. We're acting like they're bullies and we're just letting them take our candy," he said.

Charles commended Larracuente and Snively on their strong play. "Che knows how to play ball. He knows how to move the ball. And Quentin's a good shooter—a good player. He plays ball everyday. He practices all the time," said Charles.

The Blazers' shot an impressive 22 for 45 from the field against the Bulldogs, but made just 3 of 7 free throws. Sampson added six points to the Blazers' effort, while Henderson and freshman Erik Gilbert each contributed four points in the loss.

JV boys' basketball's next game is at 5:15 p.m. at Walter Johnson on Jan. 13.



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