Falcons find touch against Madison

By Jeff Nations

WOODSTOCK — Central High School junior guard Sam Barbour rediscovered his shooting touch in the nick of time Wednesday night.

Falcons senior Travis Cooper never lost his accuracy at the free-throw line.

Both came up large when it mattered most against Bull Run District rival Madison County in a 61-59 boys basketball victory.

Barbour, who was sizzling from beyond the 3-point arc to start the game, cooled down after draining his first three 3-point attempts. But with the Falcons down a point with 1:21 to play, Barbour found his stroke for another trey that gave Central (6-6, 4-3 Bull Run) a lead it would hold the rest of the way.

“We’ve been waiting for Sam to shoot the ball well all season, and his last three games he’s just been the guy we’ve needed him to be,” Central coach Brandon Shields said. “We did a good job of finding him, we did a good job of sharing the ball.”

Barbour, who had three 3-pointers the last time out against John Champe, appreciates the confidence he’s been given to shoot.

“I’ve just been feeling it in practice and coach gave me the green light to shoot, so I’m putting them up,” Barbour said.

Following Barbour’s fourth trey and a turnover by the Mountaineers on the other end, Cooper drew a foul and hit both ends of a one-and-a-bonus to boost the Falcons’ lead to four. Madison County (8-7, 5-5 Bull Run) again failed to convert, and Cooper sank another free throw to give the Falcons a solid five-point lead with 23 seconds to go.

The Mountaineers weren’t quite through, though, as James Graves buried a 3-pointer on the ensuing trip down the court to get his team back within two with 12 seconds to go. A quick foul on the inbounds sent Central’s Austin Fadely to the free-throw line with six seconds to play, and he missed both.

With time running out, Madison’s Graves grabbed the rebound and sent a long pass downcourt to teammate Dre Twyman. With a hand in his face, Twyman launched a desperation 3-pointer that barely drew backboard as time ran out.

Cooper, who finished with a game-high 25 points, sank 11 of 13 free throws.

“It’s a pretty big win,” Cooper said. “There’s a whole lot of teams in our district that are really close, so we have to win as many games as we can against those teams. We’re going to try and finish up top and get some home playoff games, maybe.

“This is a big momentum shift, as well. We needed that one game to get us back on track, and I think this is it.”

The win evened up the regular-season series between the schools after the Mountaineers earned a 64-54 win on Dec. 18.

Much has changed, though — the Mountaineers lost standout Bobby Ford to a knee injury, the Central has had time to catch up after a late start due to the school’s football postseason run.

“I think if we would play first-week Central versus right-now Central, I think we’d take care of them pretty easily,” Shields said. “I think we’re progressing really well. We starting to get in the right spots and they’re finally really starting to grasp the offense and what we want to do.”

The Falcons flashed that potential in the second quarter, when they turned an 11-point deficit into a one-point lead in two and a half minutes. Ricky Neff opened what would be a 16-0 run with a 3-pointer and hit a free throw as he drew a foul for a four-point play. Neff had eight points of his 13 points in that stretch, and Cooper had the other eight a the Falcons built a five-point lead with 1:29 left in the half.

Still up 37-33 heading into the third quarter, Central pushed ahead by as many as nine in the third. But a turnover-induced lull allowed the Mountaineers to stick around, and they surged back into the game behind the standout inside play of Matt Temple (19 points, 13 rebounds). A Temple putback and a layup by Isiah Smith (15 points) put the Mountaineers up by three with 1:58 to go, but Cooper answered by slicing through the lane for a layup and then Barbour struck with his timely 3-pointer.

“I feel like this game we played more as a team and made shots, which we weren’t doing there,” Barbour said. “As the season’s gone on, we’re just starting to hit more shots and it’s giving us a big advantage in games.”

Barbour finished with 13 points. Zachary Herbaugh nearly had a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds, and Cooper did as well with eight rebounds to go with his 25 points.