By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
The streak is finally over.
After dropping their last nine meetings against arch-rival Pulaski County, the Southwestern Warriors finally figured out a way to get over the hump against the Maroons last night at The Wigwam.
But it did not come easy.
The homestanding Warriors raced out to an 18-point lead in the first half of play, only to see Pulaski County fight all the way back from the dead.
The Maroons roared back to take the lead late in regulation, but thanks to a Justin Edwards three-pointer that knotted the game up at 78-78 with about 10 seconds left in the first overtime, it was Southwestern holding on down the stretch in an instant classic, getting past the Maroons 91-87 in double overtime.
And, it was at the free throw line where the Warriors arguably ended just over three years of futility against PC.
For those counting, it had been 1,097 days since the last time Southwestern had knocked off PC on the hardwood, or three years and two days.
The date was January 15, 2010 the last time Southwestern had downed Pulaski, and since then, this rivalry had been very one-sided, shaded in maroon.
But last night, it was Southwestern that made just enough plays and hit just enough shots down the stretch to end the streak.
Pulaski County left a ton of points at the charity stripe, hitting on just 19-32 free throw attempts, while the Warriors shot a very respectable 75 percent from the line, making 21 of 28 charity tosses.
And, Southwestern needed every one of those points to hold back a very pesky PC squad, who fought back time and time again on Friday night.
“It sure wasn’t pretty,” stated Southwestern head coach Steve Wright, after his club improved to 13-3 on the year with the win.
“We got a little bit of a lead — and maybe we hadn’t had that big of a lead in a while, I just don’t know — but we relaxed a little bit, but I really liked the way we finished in regulation,” continued the Warrior coach. “We were beat in regulation, and we were beat in the first overtime, and came back and hit some big shots. I thought this game really showed the character of our kids.”
Indeed, after seeing that 18-point bulge evaporate in the second half, to their credit, the Warriors came up with the big plays and hit the crucial shots when they needed them the most.
Early on — this one was all Southwestern.
The Warriors hit five of their six treys in the game in the first half, and after that fifth trey with 6:21 left in the second quarter, Southwestern was simply rolling with a commanding, 34-16 lead over Pulaski County.
However, this one was far from over.
Peyton Gover led the charge back from the dead for the Maroons, as the freshman point guard tallied a game-high 32 points in a losing effort.
Riley Hall added 18 points for PC, while Sean Ross simply went to war in the second half, scoring 15 of his 17 points after the intermission.
In fact, it was a Peyton Gover three just before the first half ended that cut the Southwestern lead down to single digits, at 41-32 at intermission, giving the freshman guard 9 points at the half.
With just over two minutes gone by in the third period, Pulaski County had clawed its way all the way back in this one, tying the game for the first time at 43-43.
Despite that valiant comeback bid, the Maroons just couldn’t get over the hump in the end.
“This is a tough loss, just like any loss is tough,” lamented PC head coach Al Gover, after his club fell to 10-5 with the setback.
“We’re not into losing and that shouldn’t be accepted,” added the Maroon coach. “You’re going to lose some basketball games obviously, but we came out flat and they had some guys that came out and shot the ball really, really well early on. You know we had won 9 games in a row in this series, and I told our guys that Southwestern would be hungry tonight, and early on, I thought they played like a more hungry team than we did.”
Ross — held to just two points at the half — played like a man possessed for the Maroons in the second half of play, scoring 15 points after the intermission.
In the third quarter alone, Ross converted three, three-point plays helping his club claw its way back into the contest and into the lead.
And, Peyton Gover was simply shooting lights out during that same stretch.
Gover had 9 points at halftime, but he exploded for 23 points in the second half, helping his club get back in this one.
A Gover three early in the fourth quarter cut the Warrior lead down to 65-63, and moments later, he would convert a pair of free throws to knot things up at 65-65.
At that juncture, this game would see-saw back and forth.
A Blake Burton trey gave the Maroons a 70-69 lead late in the contest, but Adam Isaacs would nail a pair of free throws to put Southwestern back out on top, 71-70.
After a Burton free throw tied things up at 71-71, PC got the defensive stop it needed, and had the ball with a chance to win it in regulation.
However, the Maroons turned the ball over, and Southwestern then had a shot for the win with just :02 left. However, a turnover on the inbounds play by the Warriors sent this one into overtime number one.
“I thought we answered the bell several times there late in the second half and in overtime,” pointed out Wright.
“Justin (Edwards) hit that big three in the first overtime, and then Dylan (Gaskin) hit that big shot at the elbow, and then Adam (Isaacs) hit some big shots,” said Wright. “I’m really proud of our guys — I’m not happy with the way that we played, but I am happy with the way that we battled.”
If this one wasn’t considered a battle between these two rivals at the end of regulation, it certainly proved to be a battle beginning with the first overtime.
A pair of free throws by Gover with just :50 left in the overtime period gave PC a slim, 76-73 lead — the Maroons biggest lead of the night.
Isaacs then hit a big shot on Southwestern’s next possession to bring the Warriors to within a point, at 76-75.
After Gover hit two more free throws extending the lead to 78-75, Edwards hit arguably the biggest shot of the night for Southwestern. Edwards drained a trey at the top of the key with :10 left in the first overtime, knotting things up for the final time at 78-78.
In the second overtime, reserve Hunter Cromer hit a jump shot on Southwestern’s first possession giving the Warriors an 80-78 lead, and Southwestern would never trail again.
In fact, the Warriors began overtime number two with a 6-0 spurt to take a seemingly comfortable, 84-78 lead, but the pesky Maroons wouldn’t go away.
Ross hit a pair of treys during yet another furious Pulaski County rally to bring the Maroons close once again.
His second trey of the overtime period trimmed the deficit down to a single digit at 88-87 with just under a minute left to play, but the Maroons would get no closer.
After Gaskin hit one of two from the charity stripe to give Southwestern an 89-87 lead, PC turned the ball over on its next possession down the court with a chance to tie the game or take the lead, and that would be it.
Isaacs hit a pair of free throws with only :12 left in the second overtime to give the Warriors their final margin of victory, 91-87 — the streak was over.
“We didn’t have a real good night shooting the ball at the free throw line and that happens,” pointed out Gover after his club’s tough loss.
“We’ve got to get better shooting free throws,” added the PC coach. “It was a gutsy effort, and we played hard. The first quarter kind of got us down in a hole, but we fought hard. Peyton (Gover) had one heck of a game. He played with no fear, and he stepped up and wanted the ball at crunch time. We had a lot of guys play well tonight, but we struggled early to hit shots, and got down by that big margin early on. I am proud of the way my guys fought back. I thought they showed a ton of heart tonight, never gave up, and played hard and fought to the bitter end.”
Pulaski County will return to action on Tuesday night at home, taking on Casey County in a 47th District contest.
That game will be a girl—boy doubleheader, and will follow the girl’s contest that tips off at 6 p.m. from The PC Gym.
Southwestern meanwhile will also return to the hardwood on Tuesday, as the Warriors will travel to Russell Springs to take on the Russell County Lakers.
PC — 12 20 26 13 7 9 — 87
SW — 23 18 20 10 7 13 — 91
PULASKI CO. — Gover 32, Hall 18, Ross 17, Burton 14, Johnson 6.
SOUTHWESTERN — Edwards 21, Gaskin 18, Isaacs 17, Butt 16, Fitzgerald 9, Cromer 8, Miller 2.