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Chiefland needed a perfect game to beat Williston in basketball, but perfection's not a dog that comes when you call. What they got, in their 58-48 loss to the state-ranked (fourth in TBO poll) Devils, was the prettiest piece of hardwood hustle the Indians have shown all season.
Against a Red Devil team that has had up and down performances against elite teams this holiday break, the Indians brought their best defense and strongest shot choices of the year, holding Williston close and even sharing a lead until the last three minutes of the game.
“We had some critical turnovers with three minutes remaining, and they did a good job of knocking down open shots,” said Indians' head coach Mark Lundy.
“They got a couple of critical threes.”
If not for those critical threes, who knows?
Isaac Floyd started the Devils off with a layup, but Stephen Davis answered right away for Chiefland, getting fouled and finishing the free throw. The Indians moved the ball patiently but drove aggressively and Eugene Carter got to the line as well.
The Devils scored in a flurry, as Floyd, Deonte Welch and Michael Solomon put on an 8-0 run. Chiefland defense put the brakes on, and a bucket from Cantrell Richardson started the Indians gnawing at the lead.
Richardson was everywhere – at times there seemed to be two of him, as he rebounded and defended. He was joined on the boards by Tommy Sheffield, Stephen Davis and Donnell Sanders, four lane-wreckers who took the Indians' already better than usual shot selection and refined it with putbacks.
Williston ended the first quarter with a 19-13 lead, but Chiefland was already chasing.
The Indians outscored their hosts 13-9 in the second, led by Richardson's fearless driving and Eugene Carter's cool hand on the jumper. A three from sharpshooter Paul King helped Williston start to pull away, but a nine-point run by Chiefland erased the nine-point lead. The Indians scrapped for loose balls; Josh Wasson and Jamantye Thompson confounded Williston's ball movement. A late bucket by Tony James allowed Williston to go to the break up 28-26.
Kelcey Coleman had a big three at the start of the second half to widen Williston's lead, but the Devils never seemed to find a rhythm. Carter cut into the lane for a basket that cut the lead back to four. Floyd opened it up again with a layup and Chiefland went on a tear, tying the game on Marquis Jackson's three-ball. Both sides traded baskets until the horn sounded and Williston escaped the third quarter with a one-point lead.
The lead evaporated at the top of the quarter when Richardson nailed a turnaround jumper. King took it back for the Devils with a three, but Carter tied it again with a pair of free throws.
Just as it seemed that the Indians could trade shots all night, Floyd returned to the floor for Williston, elevating the Devils' passing game against Chiefland's alert pressure D. A touch pass to King resulted in a three off the left wing, opening the lead to four. Sheffield went baseline to pull closer, but moments later, Floyd did the pass thing again, this time to Jacques Edwards; another three.
The Indians began to foul to get the ball back, but at the line, Williston shone, making five of six. Carter made one more fast break layup, but there was no more get-back for the Indians.
“I'm very proud of our execution, our work ethic,” Lundy said.
“These guys bust it in practice and on the floor. I really felt good in the third quarter – the entire game. We had some opportunities we should have capitalized on, but Williston's a good team, very well coached.”
Lundy is hoping this outstanding performance represents the turning point for Chiefland.
“It's taken us this long to recognize that when we play within our offense, we're pretty good.”
Williston Head Coach Dave Vespignani was not pleased with the Devils' performance.
“I'd like to sugarcoat it, and taking nothing away from Chiefland – those guys played their butts off,” he said. “But we're not very good right now.”
“We have to execute better on offense,” he continued.
“When we get wide open shots, as we did so many times, we've got to put them consistently in the basket. On defense, we've got to stay in front. We want steals so bad we're reaching and grabbing, and then we get beat.”
Williston travels to Cape Coral Friday, Top-10 Bishop Verot Saturday, and then returns to play state-ranked P.K. Yonge on Tuesday.
“We've got to figure some things out really quick,” Vespignani said.