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Feb. 17, 2008

Fourth quarter free throws foil Blazers

by Andrew Kung, Online Sports Editor and Copy Editor
NELSON H. KOBREN GYMNASIUM, Feb. 15 -

Blair varsity boys' basketball (3-16) suffered yet another painfully close loss on Friday night, falling to the Quince Orchard Cougars (12-7) by a score of 45-39. The teams were evenly matched for three-and-a-half quarters before the Cougars finally pulled away and held on with superior foul shooting down the stretch.

Quince Orchard came out firing early on, scoring the first seven points of the game to take a quick 7-0 lead. According to Blair head coach Mark DeStefano, the Blazers "sleepwalked" into the game after suffering an emotionally draining 54-50 overtime loss to Paint Branch the night before. Defensive rebounding was a falling point for the Blazers early on, as Quince Orchard was able to secure multiple second-chance and putback opportunities.

The Blazers soon regrouped, as senior guard and co-captain Milton Colquehoun responded with a three pointer to put the home team on the board. The teams then traded layups, as senior forward Issy Melton scored twice for the Blazers. Melton was the focal point of the offense, leading the Blazers with 14 points. Cougars forward Neal Kosciulek led all scorers with 19 points. A three-pointer by Quince Orchard's Jeff Dowdy ended the quarter, with the Cougars up 14-7.

But as Quince Orchard dominated the start of the first quarter, Blair dominated the second, going on a 7-0 run of their own to tie the game at 14-14, capped by another long three-pointer by Colquehoun. The Blazers' zone defense kept the ball outside, forcing the Cougars to take long jumpers, holding them to just two points in the entire second period. The score was tied at halftime, 16-all.

Ball handling was sloppy at the onset of the second half, as both teams committed multiple turnovers. The Cougars were able to convert, scoring on fast breaks layups and quick jumpers. The waning moments of the quarter saw strong play from junior point guard Mike McClain, who converted a three-point play on a drive to the basket and then drew a charge on the other end. The Blazers ended the period down just two points, 26-24.

But as seen innumerable times this season, the Blazers' luck turned in the fourth quarter. The teams exchanged baskets early, and a layup by senior guard Quentin Snively tied the game at 29-all. However, the Cougars went on a 6-0 run that the home team could not match. With under four minutes to go and facing a four point deficit, the Blazers were forced to foul, but the Cougars calmly sank their foul shots. On the night, Quince Orchard converted 14 of 23 free throws, while Blair shot just 3 for 9. The Blazers continued fighting until the final buzzer, forcing three late Cougar turnovers, but were unable to convert. Desperation three-pointers by junior guard Wayne Henderson as time winded down were way off, and the Cougars held on for the victory, the final score at 45-39, Quince Orchard.

"It was exactly as we had expected," said Cougars head coach Paul Foringer. "We both played a hard zone [defense]. It was difficult to us to score on their zone, and it was difficult for them to score on our zone." Foringer praised the effort displayed by the Blazers and the job that DeStefano has done with the program. "I'm glad we won," he said. "Blair's team is really good. Their record is not indicative of their play."

DeStefano too was impressed with the game, despite the final result. He was very encouraged by Blair's zone defense, which held the Cougars under 50 points. "We're a much better defensive team than we were at this point last year," he said, lauding the team on playing smart, team-oriented basketball with a focus on solid passing and defense. "The plays that make the ESPN highlight of the night don't win games.

"No one likes to lose, but we're not playing losing basketball. We're in games," he said. According to DeStefano, this was the ninth loss this season by six points or less, a two-possession margin. Still, the coach's outlook remains upbeat. "We're making positive strides," he said, "building things little by little. We've had chances to win, we just need to take advantage of those opportunities."

Boys' basketball takes on Walter Johnson at home this Tuesday Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.



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