A questionable goaltending violation with 3.3 seconds left in the game proved to be the difference, as the Dr. Phillips Panthers lost to the Oak Ridge Pioneers 49-47 in a battle of the top two teams in class 7A Friday, Jan. 15.
Two minutes into the game, Oak Ridge lost SMU commit Jalen Smith after he injured both of his wrists when he hit the ground after being fouled while he went for a layup. Smith was transported to a local hospital following the injury.
Despite the loss of Smith, Oak Ridge (14-1) played suffocating defense in the first half and led by as many as 13 points en route to a 25-15 lead at the halfway point.
“They pressured (and) they blitzed all of the ball screens,“ Dr. Phillips head coach Ben Witherspoon said of the Pioneers’ defense. “They did a good job denying. We got hurried up and just made bad decisions, made bad passes, threw some low passes to Ernest Udeh that we shouldn’t throw.”
Dr. Phillips (12-2) managed to make their adjustments though, and started the third quarter with a 14-3 run to take a 29-28 lead, which was their first of the game. Oak Ridge would reclaim their momentum though and finished the third quarter up 37-34.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers and Pioneers exchanged leads and found themselves tied at 47 with 40 seconds left in the game after a layup from Denzel Aberdeen.
“We made some adjustments in the second half to combat the pressure,“ Witherspoon said. “Got some easy baskets because of it.”
The Pioneers called a timeout with 32.8 seconds left in the game. Coming out of the timeout, Oak Ridge’s Fabio Basili drove to the basket and had his shot blocked against the backboard by Dr. Phillip’s Ledger Hatch. The referee by Oak Ridge’s bench called a goaltending violation, consequently giving the Pioneers a 49-47 lead with 3.3 seconds left in the game.
“I saw a clean block,“ Witherspoon said of the goaltending violation.
The Panthers had one more chance to tie or win the game, but Aberdeen’s shot was blocked, sealing the two-point win for Oak Ridge.
The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for Dr. Phillips.
Oak Ridge’s Michael James led all scorers with 18 points. Eathen Williams led the Panthers with 11 points, while Jordan Tillery added 10 points.
A potential rematch between the top ranked teams in Class 7A could potentially happen if they both reach the state semifinals.
“Just making decisions after we beat the traps,“ Witherspoon said of potential adjustments his team needs to make ahead of a potential rematch.
“Defensively, we were great,” Witherspoon said. “Holding that team to 49 points is plenty enough to win. We just can’t play the way we played in the first half.”
Dr. Phillips will be back in action on Tuesday, Jan. 19 when they go on the road to face the West Orange Warriors (9-4).