By Steev Riccardo
For 31 minutes and 39 seconds the Bartlett Indians looked like they had finally solved the Quaboag Cougars when one shot changed all that and ended all hopes of returning to the Clark Tournament finals.
The Indians had the perfect game plan to overcome two earlier losses to the #1 seeded Cougars in the Clark semi-finals Tuesday night (Feb. 21), but failed to prevent a last second shot which forced overtime, resulting in a 68-60 loss to the Central Mass powerhouse.
Bartlett Head Coach Tony Paranto changed things up and the Indians came out of the locker room with a new look that initially stifled the Cougars. Instead of having senior co-captain Nick Kobel run the offense from the point like he has all season, the Indians put Junior Akeem Belnavis at the point.
“The last time we played them (Thomas) Jankins did a very good job on Kobel so we figured by having Kobel play the wing we would take Jankins away from the middle of the floor which is where he likes to be,” said Paranto.
The move took the Cougars’ star and 1000-point career scorer away from the middle of the floor and opened things up for Belnavis, who responded with 14 first quarter points, catapulting the Indians to a surprising 19-7 lead after one quarter.
The Cougars were able to solve the puzzle in the second quarter and outscored the Indians 14-6 to make it a 25-21 game at the half. Still, the Indians had to feel good with a lead over the favorites at the half.
The third quarter was hard fought but the strong inside play of sophomore Alex Givens-Perry and some big three-point shots by Kobel and Matt Huberdault helped the Indians open a 10-point lead heading into the final stanza.
The Cougars suddenly caught fire and rattled off five quick points and were within two when sophomore Ethan Lacaire gave his team their first and only lead in regulation with a deep three-pointer making it 51-50 at the 3:46 mark.
The lead only lasted 21 seconds as Perry picked off a rebound and tossed it in to give the Indians a 52-51 lead.
Both teams missed on their possessions, but then Kobel came up huge and buried a jumper with 53 seconds left to give his team what seemed like a safe 54-51 advantage.
The Cougars got the ball back with 18 seconds left and Jankins looked to be contained by Kobel but somehow got off a fade away shot from beyond the three-point line that went in just before the buzzer sounded.
The air was completely deflated from the Indians’ balloon and they were outplayed in overtime and dropped what seemed like the game plan and would-be win of the year.
“It was a very good basketball game, two good teams sparring it out, unfortunately we got beat with a Hail Mary,” said a visibly dejected Paranto afterwards. “We had a good game plan going in, we executed very well defensively. Offensively I think we did what we needed to do. I thought Belnavis did a good job handling the ball for us for the first time this year.”
It was a tough pill to swallow for the Indians, who lost two tough games to the Cougars this year with chances to win in both of those as well.
“It wasn’t justice, I thought the kids did a great job all the way through and it’s unfortunate that it had to end that way. I don’t mind getting beat with a good shot and a good look but a fall away Hail Mary from 30 feet, that’s tough.”
Kobel, who finished with 11 points, showed some great sportsmanship after the loss and gave credit to Jankins, whom he calls a friend and a great rival, “He shot the ball from where we wanted him to shoot from, it wasn’t a lay-up, it wasn’t a clean shot, a great player makes those kinds of shots.”
Belnavis, who led the Indians with 22 points and 8 rebounds, took the loss very hard, “We had a good game plan on defense and it worked really well until that last shot.” The Indians still have District play to look forward to and Kobel feels his team “has to bounce back” and indications are that they will.
- Thursday, 23 February 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Sports