Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
WARDSVILLE, Mo. — When you’re trailing by 12 points with less than eight minutes to play, the best way to score is the way that doesn’t take time off the clock.
The Blair Oaks boys basketball team illustrated that perfectly Tuesday night, hitting its final 16 free-throw attempts and mounting a fourth-quarter comeback to edge No. 9 California 71-66 on Senior Night.
The seventh and eighth of those free throws gave the Falcons their first lead since 14-13 and came from the hands of sophomore guard Cody Alexander — as did the third, fourth, 13th and 14th free throws in the streak.
“I was just happy,” Alexander said of the go-ahead free throws. “It’s hard to explain. After that, it was just crazy.”
The Falcons were outscored in each of the first three quarters but exploded for 26 points in the fourth. Sure, Blair Oaks took advantage of Pintos center Damon Shaw’s foul trouble and funneled points through the paint, but sometimes the answer is much simpler than that.
“We made shots,” Blair Oaks coach Ryan Fick said. “… We had some success with the high-low looks. I thought we were patient offensively in the fourth quarter. But, you know, you can’t substitute (for) making shots.”
The Falcons made 7-of-8 shots from the field in the final quarter and sunk 12 free throws to finish 20-of-22 overall.
“That was the difference,” Fick said.
The closest Blair Oaks came to missing from the line in the quarter was an Alexander shot — No. 13 of the 16 straight — that hit the rim twice, the backboard once and the rim once more before slipping through the net.
From the field, Kory Franks had the hot hand down the stretch. He scored eight points on 3-of-3 shooting in the fourth quarter and finished 7-for-10 with a game-high 21 points.
“They did a good job of guarding Kory all night long,” Fick said. “He was just able to get just enough space just to knock some shots down, and on Senior Night, that’s huge.”
Franks’ first 3 in the final quarter brought Blair Oaks within 57-50, and four straight points by Owen Luebbering narrowed the gap to three. Luebbering finished with 18 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
The teams traded buckets before a Franks 3-pointer tied the game at 59 with 2:55 to play, and another Franks jumper tied the game at 61 one minute later before Alexander took the lead with his free throws. Alexander finished with 13 points, and Jason Rackers was also in double digits with 10.
California, on the other hand, had the lowest-scoring quarter of the night in the fourth, putting up 11 points with four missed 3-point attempts and a missed free throw that would have tied the game at 63.
“We just kind of gave it away in the fourth, and they capitalized,” said Jaden Barr, who finished with a team-high 18 points for California.
The Pintos led 18-16 after one quarter, 38-30 at the half and brought a 55-45 advantage into the fourth quarter.
California senior Eli Freeman hit four straight 3-pointers in the first half to pace the Pintos, but Blair Oaks did a better job containing him after halftime, holding him to just one more 3.
“We adjusted there,” Fick said. “But they’re so good at their dribble drive. If you help off shooters, they’ve got guys that can knock a shot down, and if you don’t help off shooters, they’ve got guys that can finish around the basket.”
California defeated the Falcons 52-50 on Dec. 19, though the game was played at a neutral site, the Linn Invitational.
“It’s a huge difference playing here,” Barr said of the Falcons’ home court. “They’ve got their fans, and this is a very good atmosphere to play in.”
Revenge was sweet for Blair Oaks after the Pintos ended the Falcons’ football season with a 32-30 district playoff defeat in November.
“This is a huge rivalry,” Alexander said. “Coming off the football loss, we wanted this one.”
The loss was California’s first in conference play this season.
“It was a big win for us to help build confidence here heading down the stretch run,” Fick said. “They’re a really, really good team, so that’s going to help our confidence a little bit.”
California (19-3, 6-1 Tri-Conference) plays Thursday at Pilot Grove. The Falcons (16-8, 5-1 conference) play Friday at School of the Osage.
In the junior varsity game, Blair Oaks defeated California 56-22. Tim Fick led the Falcons (19-4) with 12 points.
Blair Oaks won the freshman contest as well, defeating the Pintos 40-28. Justin Cobb led the Falcons (16-7) with eight points.