Knights win OT thriller for tourney championship

DUBLIN — Moments after the ball left John Bowen’s hand, the buzzer sounded to end the overtime period in Wednesday’s championship game of the Woodman Life Christmas Tournament between West Bladen and Hoke County. But before that buzzer sounded, there was the sweet swish of nothing but net as Bowen’s three-point shot fell and gave the Knights a 67-66 win.

“I didn’t think at all, I just turned and shot — and prayed,” Bowen said. “It was the shot of my life.”

The shot followed back-to-back blown calls by the referees, who missed a travel at one end by the Knights, then missed a three-point shot by the Bucks that was tipped at the rim and called a game-tying three-pointer as regulation ran out.

Hoke County started slow and the Knights got out to 6-3 and 8-6 leads before the Bucks went on a 10-0 run and opened a 16-8 edge. The two teams traded six points apiece to finish the first quarter and Hoke County took a 22-14 lead into the second stanza.

West Bladen manufactured a 7-0 burst to start the period and closed to within 22-21, but the Bucks answered with an 11-0 spurt to extend the lead out to 33-21 — their largest lead of the game. Stefan McDonald buried two free throws at the end of the half and the Knights went into halftime trailing 33-23.

“They (Hoke County) are good defensively, but a lot of our trouble is self-inflicted,”said West Bladen coach Travis Pait. “We just have to keep battling.”

And battled the Knights did.

Keyshawn Lewis opened the second half by draining a three[pointer and two baskets by Jonathan Robinson gave West Bladen a 7-0 run and pulled the Knights to within 33-30. But the Bucks responded with a 7-0 burst of their own to go back up by 10. Sayaun Dent canned a basket and McDonald hit two free throws to bookend a Hoke bucket, and went into the fourth quarter trailing 42-34.

Dent opened the quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play, but the Bucks hit a bucket and two free throws — just ahead of Dent burying a pair of deep three-pointers. After Hoke County got a bucket and free throw, the Knights went on a 10-0 run that gave them a 53-49 lead with less than 2 minutes in regulation.

Hoke County canned a three-pointer,followed by a bucket by Bowen as the clock wound down. And with 3 seconds on the clock, the Bucks got a three-point shot that was tipped as the buzzer sounded — but was counted as a game-tying three.

In the 5-minute overtime, the Bucks scored first, but West Bladen got a three-pointer from McDonald and a basket by Shaquille Johnson for a 60-57 lead. Hoke buried a bucket and Dent answered with a three-pointer ahead of three straight free throws by the Bucks.

McDonald hit one of two free throws moments later, but Hoke County went on a 4-0 run that gave the Bucks a 66-64 lead with 6 seconds showing when McDonald brought the ball over half court and called time out.

The ensuing in-bounds pass went to Bowen on the right side, who let the shot fly — and sent the crowd into a tizzy when it fell for the win.

“I’m so proud of these guys,” Pait said.”Everyone battled and shots started to fall. We do some really dumb things some time, and that’s youth — but they keep playing hard.”

The trio of Bowen, Dent and McDonald each scored 12 points for West Bladen — Dent had a trio of three-pointers and added seven rebounds, McDonald grabbed five boards. Johnson had nine rebounds, while Kalvin Page had five assists and three steals.

Dent was named the tournament MVP, while McDonald was named to the all-tournament team.

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