02/06/05 — Golden Falcons stay alive in hoops playoff hunt

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Golden Falcons stay alive in hoops playoff hunt

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 6, 2005 2:01 AM

PIKEVILLE - Another Friday night at Charles B. Aycock -- two more dramatic finishes.

In the men's game, the Golden Falcons' Montrel Sims followed up a miss by Rob Phillips at the buzzer to lift Aycock to a 69-67 win over Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference contender South Central.

"I saw the shot was going to fall a little bit short, so I just grabbed it and tipped in," Sims said. "The Falcon Frenzies are helping us out. There is nothing like playing at home."

The game-winner sent the faithful Frenzies on to the court in celebration and the tip-in helped boost Aycock (10-12 overall) to 6-8 in conference play heading into the final week. The visitors from Winterville exited 11-4 in the ECC.

The finish marked the Falcons' sixth in their last eight in ECC play decided by four points or less -- five coming at home on Friday nights. Aycock is 4-2 overall in those games.

"This team has got to be watching ESPN Classic. Last week we got Grant Hill to Christian Laettner. This week we got Whittenburg to Charles without the dunk," Aycock coach David West said. "I think this South Central team is the best team to come through here this year, top-to-bottom.

"We know this is one game at a time. This year, we know we are out of that play-in game and that's one goal met this year. The next goal now is to get a playoff spot and that's what we are after now."

Rob Phillips posted a game-best 21 points for the Falcons -- 18 coming in a huge first half for the junior guard. Santavin Poole and Brandon Hobbs scored 14 points each, while Sims added 13.

The women's game also saw its fair share of drama as the Lady Falcons won a key ECC battle 43-40 in overtime.

Aycock (12-8, 10-4 ECC), who maintained sole possession of second place, erased a 35-28 deficit in the final three minutes on its way to its eighth win in nine outings overall. South Central (12-10 overall) fell to 9-6 in league play.

Falcon forwards Emily Stewart and Lela Reid scored six points each during the fourth period and overtime as their team outscored the visiting Falcons 15-5 in the last seven minutes of action.

"Good team chemistry ... These girls get along with each other and they love each other, and I love being around them," Aycock women's coach Gary Hales said. "Winning only helps, and we are going to enjoy the ride as long as we can."

Aycock's balance proved key in the men's game as each of its double-digit scorers stepped up in different stages to keep pace with South Central. Phillips came off of the bench to score 18 in the first half, while Poole notched six in the second period.

In the third, Hobbs dropped in 10 -- including two big 3-pointers.

"That's (the balance) what they've got to do. I thought the guys really kept their focus. That shows our team is maturing," West said. "It seems like the guys did a couple of things good, and it was just contagious."

South Central jumped out to an early 12-4 lead -- benefiting from five Aycock turnovers -- and led 21-14 after the first. The Falcons quickly asserted themselves in the second as Phillips posted 15 points during a 12-minute stretch in the first half to help Aycock eventually draw even at 35 going into the break.

The lead see-sawed through the third period, before Aycock took its largest lead of the game at 60-53 at the 5:15 mark of the fourth on a steal-and-score by Hobbs. The Falcons maintained the lead, but one, 3-point play each by South Central's Jonathan Williams and Montel Smith helped the visitors stay close.

In the final two minutes, South Central had two key misses on front ends of 1-and-1 attempts at the free-throw line. The Falcons eventually tied the game at 67-67 on a putback by Cross with 30 seconds left.

After an Aycock timeout with 12.9 seconds left, Phillips handled the ball up top and worked the clock down to the final seconds, before working to his right and misfiring short on a long jumper. Sims positioned himself in the right place to grab the miss and score the game-winner as the final horn sounded.

In a game where both teams played efficient defense -- combining to create 47 turnovers -- Aycock's Erin Medford turned in a key blocked shot with 6.7 seconds left with the Falcons clinging to a one-point lead.

After the play, Quaneisha Milner, who finished with 10 points, was intentionally fouled as she stepped up and made 2-of-2 to push Aycock back up by three. The Falcons missed their next two free-throw attempts, leaving the door open for South Central to have a shot to tie the game with a 3.

At the buzzer, the visitors attempt from long range fell short.

During the defensive battle, neither team managed to create any separation during the first three periods.

Keyed by one 3 each by Kemia Smith and Jordan Vines, South Central posted a 13-2 run to open the fourth -- taking a 35-28 lead. Milner answered with a 3 of her own to pull the Falcons to within two at 35-33 with 1:30 left. The visiting Falcons maintained that lead going into the final ten seconds, before Stewart tied the game with 8.6 seconds left on an assist from Reid to help send the game into overtime.

In the final three minutes of regulation and the four-minute overtime period, South Central managed just one field goal.

"I was very proud of our resiliency down the stretch. We found the heart and dug down and came out with the victory," Hales said. "We preach defense, and hopefully our offense comes off of our defense."

Aycock concludes the regular season next week with a road battle at Eastern Wayne on Tuesday, before returning home to finish play at home on Thursday against Washington. The men's ECC tournament begins on Feb. 14, while the women's tourney tips off on Feb. 15.