Rams win on buzzer-beater
With the score knotted at 44-all with 9.3 seconds left in the fourth period, Bruton junior Daniel Jones missed a pair of free throws to set up an ad-libbed final sequence for Strasburg.
Rams senior Noah St. Clair – who had previously tied the game with Strasburg’s 10th 3-pointer of the night with less than 20 seconds to play – snagged the rebound off of Jones’ second miss and quickly scanned the floor. St. Clair skipped the ball ahead to Howard, who was open near half-court. Howard did the rest.
Dribbling one-on-one against a Panthers defender, Howard drove hard toward the right side of the lane, gaining just enough separation for a last-ditch shot at the basket. The 5-foot-9 guard lofted a floater from the edge of the paint, abiding by his head coach’s season-long advice to scoop the ball underhand with some touch, not overhand. The ball banked off the backboard, took a small bounce off the rim and dropped through the net as the final second ticked away, giving Strasburg a thrilling 46-44 win.
“I knew if they missed it that I had to make a big play,” Howard said of Bruton’s free-throw attempts. “So I did.’
Howard’s heroics gave Strasburg (22-6) a satisfying bit of redemption over Bruton, which knocked the Rams out of the regional quarterfinal round last season on its way to an appearance in the Group 2A state championship. Better yet, it set the Rams up for a semifinal meeting with Prince Edward at a neutral site with a state tournament berth on the line.
Strasburg head coach Matt Hiserman said the Rams’ Region 2A East semifinal will likely be Thursday, but nothing was official immediately following Tuesday’s game.
“Our kids just persevered,” Hiserman said. “They don’t back down from anybody and they just keep battling. Heck, we’ve got ourselves where we’re one game away from getting to Richmond.”
Strasburg, the second seed out of Conference 35, survived a couple potentially game-changing runs by Conference 33’s top seed on Tuesday evening on the strength of a barrage of 3-pointers. The Rams’ ability to connect on the deep ball (Strasburg hit 10 of 25 3-pointers in the win) served as a stark contrast to Bruton’s aggressive, slashing offensive style all game long.
The Rams’ 3-point success started early, as they hit three treys in the first period including a buzzer-beater from Tyler Brill that ended Bruton’s 7-0 run and sent Strasburg into the second period trailing 15-11.
Strasburg rallied to tie the game at 16-all late in the second quarter following Tyler Fincham’s 3-pointer, and Fincham’s layup in transition off teammate Mekhi Hendricks’ steal gave the Rams their first lead of the game with 2:05 left in the first half.
The Panthers regained a 20-18 lead with a minute remaining before St. Clair hit his first 3 to give Strasburg a one-point edge, but Jones (18 points) scored on a tip-in at the buzzer to send Bruton into halftime with a 22-21 lead.
Fincham caught fire early in the second half, as he hit two more 3-pointers and connected on a deep jumper from the wing to help the Rams build a 29-26 lead midway through the third period.
“No one else could really get anything to fall, so I just got the ball and kept on shooting, getting good looks,” said Fincham, who finished with a game-best 21 points before fouling out with one minute left in the game.
“One shot after another, it just felt good so I just kept shooting.”
Bruton closed the third quarter on a 9-0 run to build a 35-29 lead, but Brill (13 points) opened the fourth period with a 3 off St. Clair’s kick-out following a drive into the lane.
“They were locking us up on the flex cut and kind of holding a little bit, and [with] their quickness they can bump the flex cut and get back,” Hiserman said of Bruton’s defense. “They really weren’t coming off of Tyler Brill in the second half so when we flipped and went to the five-out, that gave us a chance for our guards to penetrate, and if they did help maybe we could find Tyler.”
Strasburg used a 10-3 run to take a 39-38 lead following Fincham’s fifth 3-pointer of the game with five minutes to play, and the two teams struggled for points until Jones hit a wide-open shot from the block to put the Panthers up 44-41 with 45 seconds remaining.
St. Clair tied the game when Ryan Smoot found him open on the wing for a his second 3-pointer with 18 seconds left.
“It feels great to to finally get out there and contribute some points instead of some steals and stuff,” said St. Clair, who is generally a defensive specialist for the Rams.
Bruton, which was 3 for 12 from the free-throw line in the loss, missed three free throws in the final 11 seconds of the game.
Hiserman said he was proud of the way the Rams defended Bruton guards Jalen Carr and Shaquan Edwards on Tuesday. Carr (nine rebounds) finished with seven points, while Edwards had 11, all but one of which came in the first half.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com