Sports

Buzzer-beater sinks Falcons in cross-island matchup

Riley Newman splits two Coupeville defenders for a pull-up jumpshot on Tuesday night. Newman scored a game-high 21 points in South Whidbey’s 44-42 loss to the Coupeville Wolves. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Riley Newman splits two Coupeville defenders for a pull-up jumpshot on Tuesday night. Newman scored a game-high 21 points in South Whidbey’s 44-42 loss to the Coupeville Wolves.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Call South Whidbey’s announcer a prophet.

After Coupeville opened the fourth quarter on a 10-4 run Tuesday night that cut South Whidbey’s lead to 36-34, the Wolves called a timeout.

Michael McInerney called the score and said, “Hang on everybody, when these two teams play, anything can happen.”

Then, “anything” happened.

South Whidbey senior guard Riley Newman nailed a running jumpshot to give the Falcons the lead 38-36. Falcon senior point guard TJ Russell grabbed an offensive rebound for a putback.

Senior forward Austin Bennett got a steal, then Newman was fouled with 59 seconds left, and made 2-of-2 free throws, 42-36.

Coupeville forced a turnover that led to Wolves senior Ian Smith knocking down a three-pointer. The Wolves got another turnover, Smith was fouled and made both free throws to bring them within one of South Whidbey, 42-41.

The Falcons inbounded the ball, and Newman dribbled away from Coupeville’s defenders to draw out the clock. He passed to Russell across center court where, he was fouled.

Russell walked to the free throw line for a single-bonus, one-and-one free throw. Falcon head coach Henry Pope pulled all his players to defend the opposite hoop and Coupeville’s senior guard Tyler King, rather than rebound or contest an outlet pass.

But Russell’s first shot rimmed out and Coupeville’s outlet pass found King on the wing.

South Whidbey’s defense smothered King, but not before he passed to Smith at the top of the arch. Smith spun to his right and heaved a buzzer-beater — a three-pointer that banked in to beat the Falcons at Erikson Gymnasium, 44-42.

“It wasn’t him [Russell] missing those free throws,” Pope said of the loss. “It should have never been that close.”

Added Pope: “My hat is off to Coupeville. They played a great game.”

Coupeville students and fans rushed the court in celebration of the rivalry victory, while South Whidbey fans sat in stunned disbelief. Smith scored 10 of his team-high 16 points in the final three-and-a-half minutes.

“When we lose at home against Coupeville, it hurts,” said Newman. “The locker room was silent after that loss. But, you know what, we’re just going to keep our heads up and look forward to Cedarcrest.”

The Wolves (3-7 in Cascade Conference; 4-11 overall) slowed the game down with a zone defense and challenged every drive to the basket with two or three defenders, especially on Newman. At times, Coupeville’s defense led South Whidbey to regret some shots.

“We rushed a lot,” said Russell, who finished with 10 points,

2 assists and 4 steals. “There’s a couple shots that you look around the crowd and you’re like, ‘What was that?’”

Newman acknowledged the offensive struggles that stemmed from forcing shots too early in the possession. He led all scorers with 21 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.

“Part of that was my fault, because I took forced shots that I shouldn’t have,” Newman said.

South Whidbey (8-2; 12-4) led for almost 30 minutes of the 32-minute game. There were three ties and four lead changes, and none of either in the third quarter. Coupeville hung around behind its defense; South Whidbey’s largest lead was 8 points.

“It’s frustrating losing, especially at home court, a game that we should have won,” Russell said.

“I mean, you have to go to school the next day and look at everyone in the face and know that you lost to Coupeville.”

After the game, Russell found Pope under the basket where his fateful free throw rimmed out.

Pope told Russell two things.

“He was not alone,” Pope said. “We played very poor basketball in the last three minutes of the game.

Pope continued: “The second thing is, TJ has worked his butt off for us all year long. He’s given more than anybody could ask for — intensity, pressure, hustle, pride in what he does — all season. And you’ve seen we’ve had a pretty damn good season. And we wouldn’t have this kind of a season, but for him.”

South Whidbey has a tough four-game stretch ahead. The Falcons travel to Cedarcrest, Archbishop Murphy and Granite Falls. Their last home game, also senior night, is on Monday, Jan. 31 against King’s.

South Whidbey is in a battle with Archbishop Murphy and Cedarcrest, which are both 8-2 in conference play. Granite Falls is the only team remaining on South Whidbey’s schedule without a winning record (1-9, 1-15). The Tigers won their first conference game on Tuesday against Lakewood and also had their highest scoring mark, 71-64.

“We control our own destiny. If we win every game, we’re first place in the conference,” Newman said.

The Falcons resumed that challenge on Friday when they played Cedarcrest (8-2; 11-5) in Duvall, after The Record went to press.

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