Granite Falls locked down South Whidbey in the waning minutes to recover from a six-point hole and win 58-55 Tuesday night.
The Tiger boys basketball team stepped onto the Falcons’ court at Erickson Gym and flustered the taller South Whidbey squad early with its zone defense. In the third quarter, however, the Falcons got their post players involved and generated a steady lead through much of the second half.
Much of the game was played in near silence, as the home-court advantage didn’t make itself known until after the Falcons took a nine-point lead in the second half. Even the Falcons themselves were unusually quiet.
“Intensity. We didn’t have that coming out in the first quarter,” said Falcon senior co-captain Cody Russell. “We weren’t talking on (defense), we weren’t playing how we were playing. We usually talk.”
Hoping to minimize the taller Falcons’ advantage, the Tigers employed the zone and a full-court press defense in the final four minutes. The results were six turnovers by the Falcons and eight points, including an inbound steal that led to a three-pointer to tie the game 53-53 with about 90 seconds remaining.
Tiger senior Daniel Matalomani, Granite’s leading scorer with 19 points, drilled the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute remaining. Falcon senior Parker Collins, who led all scorers with 22 points, shot a desperation three pointer that missed the rim as time expired.
“We were looking good, we were feeling confident … until that three, then it went down from there,” Russell said.
“We just want to get it in quick,” he added. “We need to think about good passes and settle down a bit.”
It was the second letdown loss in seven days for South Whidbey, which lost the week prior to Sultan. Granite Falls’ victory was exacerbated by South Whidbey’s overtime win Dec. 12 against Cedar Park Christian, ranked third in 1A at the time.
Offensively, South Whidbey and Granite Falls each started out sluggishly. The Tigers cobbled together a 14-8 second-quarter lead before the Falcons went on an 8-3 run to come within one point by halftime.
Out of the break, South Whidbey seemed to have Granite Falls’ zone defense solved and its own defensive pressure invigorated. Following a Mo Hamsa (15 points) baseline jumper, Russell stole the ball, sending it up the court to Collins who was fouled. He made both, as he would the rest of the night in which he went 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, to tie the game at 20 apiece. A travel on the Tigers led to a three-pointer by Falcon freshman Lewis Pope for their first lead of the night.
South Whidbey padded its advantage through the third quarter, until finally gaining a double-digit lead on an inbound layup by Hamsa. The 10-point edge quickly vanished as Matalomani drilled a three-pointer, followed by a Falcon turnover and a layup from Tiger senior Alex O’Neill, who finished with 15 points.
Turnovers in the fourth quarter killed South Whidbey’s momentum and allowed Granite Falls to chip away at the scoring deficit, until Matalomani’s go-ahead three.
“Like our coach said, don’t get too high emotionally,” said Russell, who scored four points. “But yeah, losing stinks.”
“It’s still very early in the season, and we need to learn how to play with each other, our strengths and weaknesses.”