The point guard has returned to the team after sitting out the weekend tournament, demonstrating an ability to come to school on time, avoiding suspension, and apologizing to the team. I sit him in the first half, and we're down nine at half time. The third quarter starts with him in the line-up for the first time all year and we explode. Rebounds are happening, the ball is being pushed, we're fast-breaking, making passes, playing the kind of up-tempo basketball we haven't even sniffed before. It's like a totally different team. One guy, at a fulcrum position, and now we're taking off.
We tie the score at the end of the third, go up in the fourth, and have a one-point lead with 0:28. Somehow, we get called for a blocking foul, which turns into a bullshit continuation as a player on the other team chucks one up and somehow, it goes in. Our last second shot falls short, and we lose by 2.
We travel to play a nearby school ("The Battle of Story Road,") who beat us by 25 or so in the tournament. They're big, have two shooters, and hit the offensive glass hard. I've been grooming these two post-players all year, two guys who are big, tall, and strong, but just raw as onions, never having played any kind of organized ball. I tell em this is their game, we need them to step up and rebound the ball, keep those guys off the glass. They do, and our defense is the best I've seen, including a tremendous effort (finally) from our troubled star, who played with such an attitude and an air of I'm-in-this-for-me in the tournament last week that three other coaches I know came up to ask how I could possible work with this kid.
I think I had more fun coaching this game than almost any other. No lead was greater than 4, there were tons of ties and lead-changes, very few turnovers or fouls, just two teams trading baskets and going at it. We were down 3 with under a minute to go and started fouling to get the ball back. Everyone's gassed. I think they played six guys all game. I played eight, but hadn't subbed since the beginning of the third quarter. They miss the front end of a 1-and-1, we hit a three and the score is tied. They bring the ball down with about ten seconds. We foul intentionally to eat some time because we have a foul to give. Then on the subsequent inbounds, this kid hits a high-arcing 3 from NBA range and we lose at the buzzer. Again.
We've lost two games in the final seconds, but I think the kids are still positive, if nothing else than because we're finally playing strong basketball. The power of a point-guard who can play D, hit a shot, and push the ball is just impossible to anticipate until you see it. Night and day. So now we've arrived at the level of basketball competence we should have acquired last year at this point, but we're pushing forward into conference play, in the division of death, a bunch of schools from the foothills with nice gyms, and players who understand the game. I know they don't expect us to put up a fight or be able to compete, and maybe we can take it to them a little.