Neff, Falcons rally past Stonewall Jackson

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

WOODSTOCK — Ricky Neff has hit big shots for Central before, but
the one the senior guard hit on Saturday night may go down as one of his biggest. He said he may even give it a name.

“That might go down in my book as ‘the shot,'” Neff said.

Neff was talking about his jumper with 27 seconds left to help give Central a 48-44 boys basketball win over Stonewall Jackson before a packed gym at Central.

“I practice that turn-around jump shot often for situations like that. If I have a one-on-one matchup like that I practice that.” Neff said. “It just happened to work that time.”

The game was tied at 44-44 when Neff hit the jumper that gave Central its first lead since early in the game and helped cap a furious comeback.

The Falcons (4-3) were down by as many as 15 in the third period. A 3-pointer by Stonewall Jackson’s Ian Pugh gave the Generals a 39-25 lead with 2:50 left in the third period.

Central then switched to a full-court press and the tide began to turn.

A free throw by Sam Barbour, a runner in the lane by Travis Cooper and a 3-pointer by Neff helped the Falcons cut into the lead.

“I thought we did everything that we were preaching from the bench — from halftime, pregame — we finally did it about the two-minute mark in the third quarter and onto the fourth quarter,” Central coach Brandon Shields said. “We started to see good things happen out of it and got some momentum. The home crowd was amazing.”

A basket by Stonewall Jackson’s Daniel Buhl gave the Generals a 42-31 lead going into the fourth period, but they wouldn’t hit another shot for the next 5:45 of the game.

Two free throws by Neff and five straight points from Cooper helped cut the lead to 42-38 with 4:43 left in the game.

“We were in a timeout and we were like ‘we just gotta play team defense, team offense. We just gotta work together,'” Cooper said. “Stonewall, they stopped playing team offense and team defense, and we took advantage of their breakdowns.

“It was just who wanted it more. We wanted it more tonight. We did not want to lose to Stonewall twice.”

Neff then took over for Central. He scored 10 straight points to end the game for the Falcons, and finished with 19 all of which came in the second half.

Stonewall Jackson’s Corey Polk stretched the lead to 44-40 with 2:26 left, but it would be the last points of the game for the Generals.

Neff hit two free throws, and tied the game on a jumper with 1:26 left. Stonewall Jackson had a chance to tie the game in the final 20 seconds, but a missed shot led to a layup by Neff on the other end.

“We had a little bit of momentum and we were doing things we needed to do, and then down the stretch we just let it slip and we didn’t finish,” Stonewall Jackson coach Patrick Smoot said. “Late in the game with 20 seconds left I should have called a timeout. I should have set something up, get us a good look, instead of going down and they turned a two-point lead into a four-point lead.

“You can put this one on me for not making a smart call.”

The Falcons full-court press didn’t create a lot of turnovers, but it helped speed up the game and cause trouble for the Generals.

“The full-court press — they went after us a bit and I felt like we broke it fairly easily, but it probably got us sped up a little bit to where we did not run our offenses as efficient as possible,” Smoot said. “It wasn’t the pressure in the backcourt that got us, it was the pressure once we got it across.”

Stonewall Jackson’s Colton Harlow played a huge role in giving the Generals a commanding lead. The senior guard had 13 points in the first quarter, including three 3-pointers, and finished with a game-high 23 points.

Central lost 50-45 to Stonewall Jackson on Dec. 6, and Shields said they were too excited early in the game.

“We were trying to get revenge on one play,” Shields said. “Every player was trying to do a little too much. That loss to start the season really hurt us, and we took it personally. At the start everybody wanted to beat the other team in one play, and do it on their own. When we started making plays — us to beat them –better things started happening.”

Polk added eight points for the Generals (3-3). Smoot said there were some definite positives the team can carry over for their remaining games, starting with next week’s game against East Rockingham.

“We’re going to have to come out ready to play [against East Rockingham],” Smoot said. “If we play a full game like we did for three quarters [Saturday] I think we’ll be all right. But, if we stumble at any point we’re going to struggle in any game that we play, no matter who we come up against.”

Cooper led the way for the Falcons with 20 points. Shields said Cooper, Neff and fellow seniors Ben Kline and Zach Herbaugh showed great leadership for the Falcons.

Shields said he also liked the resiliency the Falcons showed.

“You know some days I think we’re not very tough, and then I think were the toughest team in the district on days,” Shields said. “We gotta find a way to play with urgency and energy and toughness and grit all four quarters. Not [just] when our backs are against the wall, because it’s going to be too late more often than not.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd