Cougars spoil Pam Pack comeback, escape with win

Published 12:56 am Wednesday, January 7, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS Senior forward E.J. Peartree fights his way into the paint in the third quarter. He finished with nine points and five rebounds.

Senior forward E.J. Peartree fights his way into the paint in the third quarter. He finished with nine points and five rebounds.

Over the last two seasons, it’s been crushing second-half collapses that have stunted runs and erased double-digit leads for the Washington basketball team. Tuesday night was a different story.

Through gritty fourth quarter play, combined with poor free throw shooting from the opposition, the Pam Pack erased a 16-point deficit and came a few inches away from overtime on a half court heave, but in the end it was Southwest Edgecombe that escaped with a 71-68 win in the Eastern Plains Conference opener.

“We put up a good fight, but we did too many things to hurt ourselves and dig that hole,” head coach Steven Flowers said after the game. “We looked awfully raggedy tonight and I expected us to be better than that.”

The fans had seen it too many times. Down 55-39 at the end of the third quarter, a David W. Smith Gymnasium scattered with onlookers at tipoff that was nearly empty, just a handful of Washington fans and a couple dozen visitors from Southwest Edgecombe remained. Those who stayed, including the seven left standing in the student section, were rewarded with a surprising finish.

In the final eight minutes, Flowers dialed up the intensity on the sideline and urged his team to keep fighting. His players apparently received the message, as the costly turnovers that plagued them in the first half were reduced and tight defense on inbounds plays began to force turnovers in the home team’s favor.

After hitting just two shots through the first 24 minutes, senior point guard John Whitley put his role as facilitator aside and began to not only work his way to the charity stripe, but also hit contested and much-needed three-pointers.

“It’s hard to take him out because then who do we go to? He plays hard, smart. He fouled out when we needed his shooting. He’s key for us,” Flowers said.

His performance, defensively and offensively, narrowed the deficit, but Whitley’s fifth foul with a minute remaining made him a permanent fixture on the bench.

With Whitley out, Azim Anthony and Matthew Holloway began to catch fire. Suddenly a 10-point deficit was a six-point deficit. After a few missed free throws from the Cougars and clutch conversions from Anthony at the line, Washington found itself down 70-66 with 21.6 seconds remaining.

“They were missing free throws, which is what kept us in it, but we didn’t shoot free throws well early on,” Flowers said. “We shot free throws in practice and that may have been a mistake. They didn’t hit them and that was probably in their mind tonight.”

Southwest Edgecombe point guard A.J. Dickens finished with 14 points, but he missed two key free throws with less than 10 seconds left. Anthony challenged the Cougar bigs, drew a foul and converted both of his, cutting the lead to just two points.

Dickens was fouled again and converted one-of-two, leaving Washington down three with 2.5 seconds left, not enough time to get off a good look.

Whitley led Washington with 18 points, while Anthony finished with 17. For Southwest Edgecombe, Quantellus Norwood led all scorers with 20 points.

With the loss, Washington drops to 1-6 and will seek its first conference win against Farmville Central on the road on Friday.