LEBANON – They didn’t make all of them, but they made enough. Yet, the fact that they won the game at the foul stripe was a somewhat ironic turn of events for a Lebanon boys’ basketball squad that’s not exactly known for its free throw prowess.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s an indication that the Cedars are becoming better foul shooters. And if so, that could go a long way in making them a better team overall.
On Saturday afternoon at Lebanon High School, Lebanon nudged Palmyra 54-52 in a competitive, tightly-contested non-league affair. The Cedars tallied their last three points of the contest at the charity stripe, on three-of-seven shooting, and won by two.
A free throw apiece from Lebanon’s Braden Allwein and Isaiah Rodriguez in the final 32 seconds proved to be decisive, after Palmyra’s Chris Edwards had knotted the game at 52 with an old-fashioned three-point play 12 seconds earlier. But the Cedars’ weren’t totally out of the woods until Cougar Quinton Townsend’s driving lay-up attempt fell short at the buzzer.
“I know we missed two front-ends (of one-and-ones) in-a-row,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “It’s not officially a turnover, but it’s a possession without points. It’s (foul shooting) been a problem for us. It’s not for a lack of practice or teaching or hard work. But we’re getting better with them.”
“I would say we have awareness of the proficiency of every opponents’ free throw shooters,” said Palmyra head coach Pete Conrad, diplomatically. “But that being said, we weren’t really trying to intentionally foul at the end.”
Both the Cedars and Cougars were coming off hard-fought Friday night road losses some 18 hours earlier – Lebanon at Manheim Township and Palmyra at Mechanicsburg. The outcome left Lebanon 7-2 on the season, and Palmyra 2-4.
“Our focus was Edwards,” said Speraw, of Palmyra’s attempt to send the game into overtime in the final seconds. “I didn’t call a timeout because I knew he (Conrad) didn’t have a timeout. I felt confident in our defense. Isaiah got matched up on their point guard (Townsend) after a switch, and he (Townsend) got to the basket. I’m sure Pete would take that shot in that situation ten out of ten times.”
“We tried. We were out of timeouts,” said Conrad. “We tried to put our players in a position to get a reasonable look. That’s the breaks. Sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t.”
Thanks to a jumper from Allwein, Lebanon had led by as much as 49-41, with 4:35 to go. But the Cougars notched 11 points in 1:51 of fourth-quarter game clock – on six points by Edwards, a Roman Byler three-pointer and an Eli Becker drive – to pull even.
“We rebounded from a tough loss last night,” said Speraw. “We didn’t play particularly great. We turned a the ball over a lot last night (Friday), and we turned the ball over a lot in the first half. I think we only had three in the second half. When you turn the ball over, you lose possessions. It’s a simple formula, but it was the difference in the game.”
“I wonder if it’s a tougher turn-around for coaches than it is for players,” said Conrad. “Coaches are control freaks. We want to be as prepared as much as we can. Kids just want to play. I think we were a little leg-weary, but so was Lebanon.
“In a normal off-season, we work out with them (the Cedars),” continued Conrad. “We all know each other well. There was some back-and-forth. They played really well early. We found a good response and they found a good response.”
After the Cougars had enjoyed a 27-18 halftime margin, Lebanon’s Luke Collins drained a trio of three-point field goals in the initial 2:19 of the second half to pull his side to within three points of the lead. Then, courtesy of five points from Allwein, four from Marquis Ferreira and a bucket by Rodriguez, the Cedars tallied the last 11 points of the third quarter to take a 40-37 edge.
“As a coach, your players never play as well as you’d like,” said Speraw. “We can always seek improvement on this and that. We could’ve rolled over when they (the Cougars) had the lead. They answered us a couple of times in the third quarter. Reducing turnovers and just fighting harder, that’s what we talked about at halftime. I thought they out worked us in the first half.”
“Defensively, it was a reasonable effort,” said Conrad. “They’re (the Cedars) very well drilled in their dribble-drive. Rodriguez is a really good rebounder, and I thought we did an adequate job of keeping him off the glass.
“I think they’re (games) all really important,” Conrad continued. “We didn’t think last night’s game against Mechanicsburg was any more, or any less, important than this game. It was important because you have to put forth your best performance every time out.”
Collins’ 16 points paced Lebanon’s balanced attack, one that also featured 12 points from Allwein and 11 by Rodriguez. Edwards poured in a game-high 28 points, on eight deuces, a trio of treys and three-for-four foul shooting.
For the game, the Cedars went 13-for-21 at the foul stripe and outscored the Cougars by six points there. Lebanon came into the game shooting 59 percent from the free throw line.
“They’re tough. They have a lot of guys who can knock down shots,” said Speraw of the Cougars. “Which makes them tough to cover, and they have some size. Pete does a great job of making them fundamentally sound. They screen hard. They play hard.”
“I think we continue to make progress,” said Conrad. “I think our guys are doing a lot of good things. But we need to be more perfect with our details. We’re getting to the point where we can compete with some really good team.”
Rodriguez notched six points and Kevin Smith tallied five, as Lebanon jumped out to a modest 11-9 lead.
But the Cougars opened the second quarter with a 9-2 spurt that featured seven Edwards points, a Becker bucket and a Daniel Baldo foul shot, to grab an 18-13 advantage. Then with Edwards scoring a deuce and Gavin Bean drilling a three-pointer, Palmyra ended the half with a 27-18 cushion.
“We’ll take 7-2 all day,” said Speraw. “But I don’t think anyone in that locker room thinks we’re as good as we can be or as good as we should be. We’re going to come back on Monday and practice like we’re 0-0.”
“I think we’re playing better,” said Conrad. “We had two really good performances the last two days. If you ask the kids, they’re disappointed. They’re getting better, but we’re still looking for that signature win.”