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With the easy win over Trenton and a 55-49 overtime loss to Oak Hall, the Bronson Eagles have officially launched this season's rollercoaster ride. Two of the edge-of-the-seat highlights for those keeping score at home: First, team go-to James Rivers suffered a nasty high-ankle sprain with four seconds to go in regulation against Oak Hall and second, the Eagles face longtime district threat Hawthorne on Saturday, possibly without Rivers. It's enough to make an Eagle fan bite his nails.
After the Trenton win, Haldeman looked ahead to Oak Hall, which he had scouted.
“They look like they're already playing January ball,” he said.
“If we beat them, we'll get an idea where we are, and if we don't, we'll find out where we need to be.”
The blue Eagles played three quarters of good-looking basketball before finally being undone by two things: good outside shooting (Oak Hall's) and awful free throw shooting (their own).
The blue Eagles managed three three-point baskets on the game, but did almost all their scoring within seven feet of the basket, compared to Oak Hall's six treys and numerous mid-range jumpers. But the free throw problem was the killing blow for Bronson. They went 0-for-the-night from the stripe in regulation – 10 missed tries – finally filling in the circles when King drained a pair in overtime.
“It was our free throws that killed us,” Haldeman acknowledged. “That, and outside shooting. Oak Hall has it and we don't.”
In the beginning, none of that mattered. After some early back and forth, Barber pulled the score even with a three-pointer; a nice around-the-horn passing spree set Bronson up to take the lead with a bucket inside by Rivers. Rivers was fouled going up, missed his free throw, but was rebounded by Wiseman who finished the basket. The blue Eagles were on their way to an 18-10 first quarter lead.
Oak Hall shot their way back in the second quarter, deploying senior sharpshooter Nima Toghayani and cold-blooded soph J.D. Tomlinson from outside. The two were good for 13 points, including three threes, and helped the maroon Eagles stay in the game while held out of the paint, which Bronson totally controlled. Wiseman was menacing inside, getting to his spots on time and working hard down low. On the defensive boards, he and Rivers were the two-headed monster. Barber also battled in the paint, when he wasn't interfering with Oak Hall's passing out on the floor. Bronson went to the half protecting a 26-23 lead.
While the blue Eagles stretched their lead a little in the third quarter, Oak Hall was making adjustments. Their increased defensive pressure forced Bronson to innovate in broken plays, such as King's conversion of a loose ball to a bucket in the lane. The pressure also sent Bronson to the line more, and those conversions didn't come. Oak Hall attacked the rack with more success and did make their free throws. Although they trailed by six at the end of three, the momentum was shifting.
A 10-point Oak Hall run at the top of the fourth had Bronson looking for answers. Suddenly down by four, they scrapped. Barber scored off the baseline and Rivers tied it at 43 with a bucket off the inbounds. King killed clock to nine seconds, and the inbounds play was again to Rivers –
– who slipped on a wet patch on the floor and injured his ankle. He left the floor several minutes later and did not return, and Bronson went to OT without him.
The blue Eagles took the first basket, on a give and go from Contreras to Barber, but Oak Hall answered when Trey Wharton rebounded Mike Simon. Bronson gained again when Contreras found Virgil Greenlee on the back door cutter, but Oak Hall trumped with a three by Tomlinson. Simon scored again, then made a free throw. King answered from the line, but when Oak Hall got the ball back, they killed the clock, forcing Bronson to foul. Tomlinson made four straight free throws to ice the game.
“We know whenever we come into Bronson, we're in for a dogfight – or I should say an Eagle fight,” Oak Hall head coach Edwin McTureous said afterward.
“I'm proud of our young guys for staying in there. It would have been easy to give up.”
Haldeman said the unhappy outcome would send Bronson back to the woodshed, particularly on their free throws.
“Rodolfo (Contreras) said it best in the locker room,” Haldeman said. “He told the team, 'We're just going to have to work harder in practice.'”