CHARMCO – Legendary Greenbrier West head coach John Estep used to preach to the masses about free throws winning games late in the fourth quarter. His sermon, which held true then, still holds true today.
No two points of Braydon McClung’s game-high 28 were any more critical than the pair of free throws he sank with only 14.2 seconds remaining on the clock and West clinging to a 69-66 lead. McClung’s first foul shot took a short ride around the right side of the rim, kissed the glass, and dropped through the net. The back end was what is known in basketball circles as a no-doubter, touching nothing but net and giving the Cavaliers a 71-66 lead. Independence frantically pushed the ball up the floor and after a flurry of four, quick passes, sophomore Sylas Nelson launched a three that pulled the Patriots to within two points. Without a timeout to stop the clock, Independence could do no more than watch the final four seconds trickle off the clock while the Cavaliers held the ball without an inbound attempt. McClung’s free throws provided the winning margin in a 71-69 victory that had the home crowd buzzing.
It was hard for Greenbrier West head coach Jared Robertson to know how his team would rebound from their most lopsided defeat only a day earlier to Ravenswood. The Cavaliers not only responded with some fight, but they did also so with a fire not often seen for an extended stretch this season. Tanner Hagy, held scoreless a day earlier after an 0-11 outing, sparked Greenbrier West with 12 points out of the gate. Hagy drilled two three-pointers in the process, and coupled with McClung’s six points, gave the Cavaliers an 18-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Dalton Williams kept the Patriots in the game early with seven points, mostly on the strength of 5-6 free throws. Nelson added four points for the visitors.
Colten Dunbar came to life in the second quarter with two field goals and 4-4 shooting from the foul line. Dunbar also dominated the boards with five rebounds, giving him eight points and seven rebounds in the first half. McClung chimed in with three points and Hagy added a bucket. Isaac Agee and Randy Keener also chipped in with two points each to help West outscore the Patriots 19-15 in the quarter.
Sophomore Ashton Arthur drilled a pair of three-pointers on his way to eight points in the quarter, and Dalton Williams stayed hot with seven points. Greenbrier West led 37-28 at halftime.
Out of the break, Arthur remained the hot hand for the Patriots with nine points, including a pair of three pointers. Logan Mink came off the bench to nail a three pointer, but Independence could only shave a single point off the Cavalier lead. McClung collected seven more points for Greenbrier West in the quarter, and Damian Dixon matched Mink’s trey with a three of his own. West led 53-45 heading into the decisive fourth quarter.
Two seniors, Mcclung and Ethan Williams of Independence, would duel it out in the fourth quarter. McClung split two defenders for a layup with 6:10 remaining. Williams, with the help of a screen and a late switch, would glide in to match McClung’s score. After a short flurry that included a Chris Davis stick back, Williams nailed a three to cut the Cavalier lead to 59-54 with 4:32 on the clock. Independence head coach Shawn Jenkins called a timeout to set his team’s strategy. A tough, turnaround jumper from Hagy pushed the lead back to seven for West, though, and Dunbar cleared a rebound after Dalton Williams missed his second free throw attempt after a Dixon foul.
This is where McClung began to penalize the Patriots with free throws. His first trip to the line produced a one-for-two effort but increased West’s lead to seven. Two possessions later, Ethan Williams again sank a three, but McClung answered with a hanging layup with 2:59 remaining on a running clock. Nelson sliced down the lane and hit a left-handed layup to draw the Patriots within four points at the 2:14 mark but Hagy drilled his third three-pointer with 1:59 left to stretch West’s lead to seven.
Reed Warden snuck inside to score on a Patriot inbounds play to cut West’s advantage back to five. McClung tried to drive inside to draw a Patriot foul, but his shot was blocked by Dalton Williams and Warden cleared a rebound on West’s putback attempt. Ethan Williams misfired on a three and with less than 40 seconds remaining, Independence started burning their fouls. Mink grabbed McClung to stop the clock once, but his effort paid off when he stole the subsequent inbounds pass and drew a foul.
Mink sank both free throws to pull Indy back to within three points, then burned another foul before being subbed out. McClung drilled both foul shots to give West a 69-64 cushion with 31.1 seconds on the clock.
Senior Chris Lilly tallied his only two points of the night with a pair of free throws with only 16.1 remaining, and Jenkins used his team’s last timeout to set his plan in place trailing 69-66. McClung was fouled with 14.2 and hit two memorable free throws to give the Cavaliers breathing room on Independence’s final possession. Nelson hit a three-pointer, but the Cavaliers simply watched and celebrated as time expired.
The 71-69 win gave West a series sweep of the Patriots in 2023-24. West improves to 7-7 with a Friday night clash with Summers County on deck. Independence falls to 6-10 and will host River View Friday night.
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