Falcon three-pointers finally fall in upset of Wildcats

Sam Lee turns the corner against Wildcat senior guard Alex Tapert on Tuesday night. The Falcon senior scored six points, including four free throws in the final quarter to beat the Wildcats.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Sam Lee turns the corner against Wildcat senior guard Alex Tapert on Tuesday night. The Falcon senior scored six points, including four free throws in the final quarter to beat the Wildcats.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The final buzzer might as well have been a dinner bell.

The Falcons feasted on their three-point prowess and Wildcat turnovers Tuesday night.

And that was all the cue more than 30 South Whidbey students needed to rush the court, ecstatic from South Whidbey’s upset victory against Archbishop Murphy. Players hugged each other and smiled after a game for the first time in weeks. They won, 54-42, and they did it against one of the conference’s perennial powers.

The Falcons made four three-pointers and committed a season-low eight turnovers to complement their zone defense for the team’s second conference victory.

“The difference tonight is the same intensity, same competitiveness, same defensive pressure, but we hit some shots from the outside,” said Falcon head coach Henry Pope.

Falcon junior Josh Bishop made a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter to give his team the lead at 11-8.

Making those shots gave the Falcons a new dimension to their offense, and turned around a poor-shooting season for Bishop. Better late than never.

“Once I started hitting, I got confidence in myself and my stroke out there just felt good,” Bishop said.

With the lead, the Falcons held on to the advantage and extended it to 12 points on Bishop’s third three-ball. As he crossed the mid-court line, Bishop gave a three-finger salute to the screaming student section.

“Coach really talked to me about my shot at practice two days before the game,” Bishop said. “He really worked on using my legs — that’s what I was missing.”

After the halftime buzzer, the Falcons (2-9 Cascade Conference; 5-12 overall) took their smiles and a 25-14 lead into the locker room.

There was plenty of anxiety about the outcome, however. South Whidbey controlled the lead at halftime plenty of games this season, only to watch it disappear in the third quarter.

“We’re notorious for not being a second-half team,” said Falcon senior forward Zach Comfort. “What I mean by that is we play strong the first half and the other team gets pumped up in the second half and comes back and bites us.”

Archbishop Murphy (7-6 conference; 8-10 overall) made a small run in the third quarter. The Wildcats scored five straight points but missed three free throws that would have cut the Falcons’ lead to only three points.

Here's the slideshow.

Against a taller Wildcat squad, the Falcons relied on its 2-1-2 and 2-3 zone defenses.

It worked to an extent, as the Wildcats’ best (and tallest) players combined for 32 points. Wildcat senior center Zach Gordon scored a game-high 18 points and 6-foot-5 senior forward Dan Haider added 14.

The Falcons were prepared for the Wildcats’ stars. South Whidbey’s practices were adapted to face Archbishop Murphy’s tall tandem. One player was marked as Gordon, and the defending Falcon had to guard and spot up against him as if he was the 6-foot-8 Wildcat senior. In the game, 6-foot-8 Comfort had the task of stopping Gordon.

“We practiced all week long for that game. We’d say, ‘This guy is Zach Gordon, then play him like he was Zach Gordon.’ That translated to the game,” Comfort said.

“He’s a great player. He has a lot of experience and a lot of really good moves.”

Gordon may have had the better game, but Comfort had the victory. The Falcon co-captain also had six blocks.

Comfort benefited from the zone defenses South Whidbey played, as he was the secondary defender.

“A lot of the plays come from the side, so I can kind of sneak up from behind and block the shot,” Comfort said.

In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats used a full-court press. Falcon senior point guard Sam Lee beat the defense with a mid-court pass to Bishop who relayed it to sophomore forward Nick French for an uncontested layup at 37-26.

On defense, Lee stole a pass that led to a layup by Comfort, who finished with nine points.

Gordon’s tip dunk on a miss by Wildcat senior guard Alex Tapert cut the Falcons’ lead to 39-32. South Whidbey again beat the trap defense, which allowed French — who scored a team- and season-high 12 points — to slip past the Wildcats for another easy layup.

The Wildcats relied on their premiere post for points. In the final eight minutes, Gordon scored 12 of his game-high 18 points. He scored six straight points for the Wildcats, including a hook shot that banked in and cut the lead to five points at 41-36.

South Whidbey closed the game on an 11-6 run. The Falcons attempted 11 free throws in the final 2:25 which were capped by 4-for-4 shooting by Lee, including the final two of the night.

“It feels so good to get confidence in our team again,” said Bishop, who scored his final point on a fourth quarter free throw.

“It’s a big win for our seniors. We love them and we’re going to keep going.”

Beating Archbishop Murphy was an important win for South Whidbey, even though its playoff hopes are long extinguished. The Falcon players and coaches couldn’t recall the last time they defeated the Wildcats. Back in January 2010, South Whidbey rallied from an eight-point deficit to beat Archbishop Murphy 63-62.

“I’m really proud of the boys how even the playoffs are out of reach for us, that’s not deterring them,” Pope said.

Any pride the Falcons’ coaches felt was mixed with a little frustration. They said all season the Falcons weren’t playing to their ability and talent, and the coaches couldn’t explain why.

“We told the guys in the coach’s room, ‘That’s why we’ve been so frustrated all season. We know what you guys can do,’” Pope said.

“We always knew that these guys could play with anybody.”

South Whidbey’s seniors hoped the victory sparked a different attitude in the rest of the team.

“A week ago, we were talking about cashing in on the season and preparing for next year,” Comfort said. “Now, this has re-amped the players and gotten them excited about basketball.”

South Whidbey faced Granite Falls at home Friday night.

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