Friday, February 28, 2014

THE WRAP: Heartbreak Redux: L.C. Bird Eliminated By Henrico....

It only matters if you lead after 32 minutes. Holding the edge, sometimes comfortably for 31:52 just isn't enough. That is the hard, hard lesson L.C. Bird basketball will stew upon throughout the offseason, knowing that with the 5A South Regional Semifinal, and a trip to the State Tournament in their hands, they couldn't hold on.

It was a combination of strategy adjustment by the Skyhawks that some may call "playing not to lose" as fans were heard to say after the game filing out, and a Henrico Warriors defense that found an extra level in the final five minutes, that gave the Warriors the opening to come back, then seal the game with one shot and one defensive stand.

The record book will show the game as Henrico 58, LC Bird 57. What it won't show will include how the Skyhawks ran circles around the Warriors in the first period, how C.J. Miles became an outside-shooting house of fire, connecting for 14 points in the first half, including four treys, and 22 for the game. It also won't show how the Skyhawks came out for the second half with a three-point lead and, in 4:21 of game action, outscored Henrico 14-6 for a 42-31 lead. At the time, Henrico was not executing their offense, not getting the ball to DeMonte Buckingham, settling for three-point attempts that mostly missed the mark.

This is when Buckingham took over, showing why he's already being heavily recruited by the likes of VCU, UVA, Virginia Tech, and others from major conferences, though just a sophomore. In consecutive possessions, Buckingham found the position to grab the board and score the putback. That fueled a 9-4 Warriors run to cut the Skyhawks lead to 46-40. After another Warrior basket, they turned on the 94-foot press.

Bird was able to break it, getting the ball to Miles who drained a trey. Ryan Pearson answered with one of his own just before the horn sounded. 49-45 Skyhawks with a quarter to go.

Each team scored twice early on, Buckingham cutting a then 7-point lead to 4 on the "And One" down low, then the game seemed stuck awhile on 53-49. Bird opted to slow things down and kill some clock. Some teams can do this and not lose their rhythm. This was not the case with Bird, who did not return to their high level of performance as the waning minutes wore on. Intensity? Yes. Fighting spirit? Oh, yes. But the decision to pull the ball out changed the complexity of the game.

Mario Haskett was fouled, and he missed the front end of the one-and-one. Bird fought and forced a turnover, so they called timeout with 3:04 left, still a 53-49 game looking for yet a new way to extend that advantage. Ten seconds into the next play, Henrico's defense force the Skyhawks to burn yet another timeout.

Finally back in play, Williams hit a jumper for a 55-49 lead. Buckingham answered. 55-51 with 2:00 left. At that moment, a turnover by Bird gave Buckingham the chance to take the game over.

He did.

His "And One" just five seconds later cut the Bird lead to 55-54. The Skyhawks answered with two, 57-54, then the Warriors found Marquis Johnson in the left corner baseline, who launched, and nailed the tying three-pointer. 57-57 with 1:30 to go.

At this point some fans courtside got out of hand. Security, officials and police quickly restored order. The teams took the "timeout" to gather and strategize. It was Bird's basketball. But not for long.

Moments after the inbounds pass, the Warriors stole the ball. Just over a minute to go and head coach Vance Harmon decides, in a 57-57 tie where he's not led the entire game, let's hold for the last shot and get out of here.

One problem, though. LC Bird only had committed four fouls in the half. So, at 11.1 seconds left, the Skyhawks fouled, forcing an inbounds pass, quite tricky with everything on the line. Henrico got it in to Buckingham who was immediately fouled. We do it again. Ball is passed to Buckingham and Williams fouls him down low. With 8.1 seconds left, the sophomore went to the line, a State Tournament berth resting on his shoulders.

His young, but broad shoulders haven't minded the load this year, game after game. Buckingham made one of two free throws, Bird rebounding the ball down one with 8 seconds left.

Kenny Williams took it all the way down the court, first down the left side, then crossing the court looking for an opening up the middle. Nothing there. As the clock winds down he settles for a jumper from 14 feet right of the circle, and it missed. The horn sounded and Warrior Nation began its celebration.

For the second year in a row, L.C. Bird saw its season end at the hands of Henrico.

C.J. Miles led the Skyhawks with 22 points, while Kenny Williams added 19. and HCS Media Network salute head coach Troy Manns and the Skyhawks for an incredible season!

(The final four pictures show the final play of the game as Kenny Williams drove coast-to-coast to find a seam for a game-winning jumper. His shot went off the mark, ending the game at 58-57, Henrico.)

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