Falcons fly through Granite Falls’ tall timber for win

South Whidbey senior captain Ben Cary pump-fakes on his drive against Granite Falls junior guard Jeff Benson. The Falcons’ offense overpowered the Tigers for a 62-51 victory.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
South Whidbey senior captain Ben Cary pump-fakes on his drive against Granite Falls junior guard Jeff Benson. The Falcons’ offense overpowered the Tigers for a 62-51 victory.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The final buzzer sounded and both teams ran off the court to their respective locker rooms.

There were no fist pumps, chest bumps or high fives.

No smiles, hugs or pointing to the fans.

With their heads down and shoulders slumped, both teams looked like they lost the Cascade Conference game.

South Whidbey (3-2) defeated the Tigers of Granite Falls, 62-51, in its third straight home-game win.

“We’re happy about the three-game win streak,” said South Whidbey head coach Henry Pope. “But the team knows it could’ve done better.”

The first half was a seesaw game with six lead changes. South Whidbey led at halftime 27-26 after Falcon senior Riley Newman got a pass from TJ Russell at the free- throw line for a two-point jump shot with three seconds left.

“Granite [Falls] shot the ball well tonight,” Newman said. “We were a little surprised.”

South Whidbey starter Sean George noted his team’s defensive struggles in the first half.

“We came out in the first half and didn’t focus on defense,” George said. “The difference in the second half was we came out focused and ready to play.”

The Falcons scored 35 points in the second half and held the Tigers to 22 points.

Granite Falls (0-4) was within four points late in the third quarter, 41-37 after senior forward Jackson Phelps made a layup. On South Whidbey’s next offensive possession, Newman dribbled to his right then passed back to his left to George for a two-point shot to put the Falcons up 43-37.

South Whidbey stretched its lead to double digits for the first time in the game on Newman’s steal and breakaway layup, 52-41.

There was still some fight left in these Tigers. Newman fouled out for the first time in his South Whidbey varsity career with two minutes remaining. He finished with 19 points and six rebounds.

“I personally didn’t agree with some of the calls, but you’ve just got to let it go,” Newman said.

“I did kind of a bad job of reaching in.”

Newman explained his team’s approach to Granite Falls’ slow-tempo offense.

“We tried to push them a little bit and get in the passing lanes and create havoc a little bit,” Newman said.

Pope was pleased with how his team controlled the ball and managed the clock after Newman fouled out.

“By that time it was just ‘Hold on,’” Pope said.

Granite Falls’ Phelps drilled a three-point shot from the top of the arch to bring the game within nine points, 57-48. Then South Whidbey’s free-throw shooters stepped up.

Russell made the front end of a single bonus free-throw shot to bump South Whidbey’s lead to 60-48. He finished with 13 points, four assists and six rebounds.

“Some other point guards just go to the hole and they get fouled there,” Russell explained. “I actually try to look for the foul more than other point guards do.”

George scored four of the final five points for the Falcons on 4-of-4 free throw shooting to put South Whidbey up 62-48. He finished with eight points.

“We went after the guys who had more fouls,” George said. “And we isolated ‘Chuck’ [Norris] down low and he went to work.”

Tigers’ point guard Riley Larson hit a three-pointer on Granite Falls’ final possession to finish the game 62-51.

The Falcons’ defense was again a point of concern for Pope. He praised his team’s aggressiveness and ability to disrupt the passing lanes, but was critical of its weak- side help and interior defense.

South Whidbey’s front court shrunk with the absence of 6-foot-7 junior Zach Comfort. Still, Norris, a senior forward, found a way to score 14 points and grab seven rebounds.

In its previous two games, South Whidbey faced increasingly large front courts. Granite Falls had four forwards 6-foot-4 or taller. The Falcons used their shooting and penetrating point guards to exploit the Tigers’ defense.

“Chuck and Sean, all our low posts, they fight to get position where it’s real easy to pass them the ball,” Russell said.

South Whidbey had its first conference road game on Tuesday, Dec. 14, against Sultan.

The Turks (2-2) were playing for their first conference win, and had not lost a game by double digits.

Ben Watanabe can be reached at 877-316-7276 or

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