Aaron Graham’s decision to be cautious Thursday night helped Oak Grove squeeze out a 42-40 road win over host Van Horn in boys basketball action.
With the Panthers leading Van Horn 40-39, Graham received a long pass and drove to the basket. The junior considered finishing the breakaway situation with a dunk.
Then, he remembered Duke’s recent 91-89 overtime road loss to Syracuse.
One reason the Blue Devils lost was because of Rodney Hood’s failed dunk attempt during the closing seconds, Graham recalled. So he went for a layup instead – and made it for the last of his 17 points. The bucket helped the Panthers spoil the Falcons’ hopes of a courtwarming and Senior Night win.
“I was like, ‘Man, if I miss this, Coach is going to be mad,'” Graham said.
Graham had dunked successfully earlier in the non-conference meeting. Panthers coach Tyler Hames said it was the first dunk by an Oak Grove player during his tenure.
“I know he really wanted that second one,” Hames said. “But it’s really more important than the show to go ahead and have the points.”
“We want Aaron to be aggressive,” he added. “Obviously, he saved us tonight. Aaron really saved us tonight. He did a great job getting on the rim and just laying the ball in, because it ... was crucial that we had that basket. It put us up three.”
Graham’s final layup wasn’t the only deciding factor. The Falcons (8-13) led 39-34 during the fourth quarter, only to watch the Panthers (8-11) outscore them 8-1 down the stretch.
One reason for the momentum shift was missed free throws. The Falcons went 1-for-5 from the foul line the final quarter to finish 3-for-10 overall. Those misses included the front ends of three straight one-and-one situations.
Isaiah Gotsis accounted for Van Horn’s only fourth-quarter free throw – and provided Van Horn’s final point – by making the first of two attempts with 4.7 seconds left.
“We’re not the greatest free throw shooters in the world,” Van Horn coach Daniel Bieser said. “But if you shoot 3-for-10 from the free throw line and miss the front end of a one-and-one three straight times in the fourth quarter, you’re not going to win and close out a whole lot of ballgames.”
Early on, it appeared it wouldn’t come down to a late layup and missed free throws, as the Panthers led 16-12 after one quarter and built a 24-14 second-quarter lead. But the Falcons responded by outscoring the Panthers 13-4 to cut Oak Grove’s lead to 28-27 at halftime. Michael Payne’s late 2-pointer made it a one-point game.
“We stepped it up big time on defense and started running through our offense more and got some open shots,” said Van Horn sophomore Samila Sua, who paced the Falcons with 10 total points.
The Falcons were up 35-34 after three quarters. They then stretched their lead to five – and then watched Oak Grove rally to win it.
“I did a poor job of play-calling down the stretch,” Bieser said. “I switched it up and I did a poor job of switching our defenses. The guys came out and executed what we wanted them to.”