Focus on Sports
Top-ranked Cecil holds off Skipjacks, 94-89

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NORTH EAST – It took an incredible foul-shooting performance to keep the Skipjacks from toppling the No. 1 team in the nation.

Cecil College, the country´s top-ranked NJCAA Division II men´s basketball team, scored its final 16 points from the free-throw line Saturday night to hold off Chesapeake College, 94-89, in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Seahawks hit their final 19 free-throw attempts – and needed every one of them as Chesapeake almost totally erased an 18-point, second-half deficit.

The Skipjacks had four chances to either tie the game or take the lead in the final three minutes, but missed three shots and were called for an offensive foul on those four possessions.

"They had their opportunities at the end, but we hit some clutch free throws," said Cecil head coach Bill Lewit, whose team finished 32-for-37 from the foul line.

"There were a lot of nerves at first," said Chesapeake´s Ty Newman, who scored a team-high 22 points, of playing the top-ranked team in the country. "Then we got the nerves out and it became a hard-fought game. We just made too many mistakes at the end."

Cecil´s balanced offensive attack – Jabril Bailey scored a game-high 25 points as six Seahawks reached double figures – also played a key role in the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference showdown.

Bailey received plenty of help from Rob Lowery, who played for Chesapeake two years ago and scored 19 points against his former team. Josiah Whitehead added 11 points and three teammates – A.J. Spencer, Bernard Cherry, and Kevin Palmer – chipped in 10 each.

"We played ´share-the-wealth´ on offense," said Lewit, who got only four points from leading scorer Antonio Haymon. "We had a lot of guys step up and score for us."

Newman, Andrew Lee (18 points), Aubin Reeves (14 points) and John Dawson (12 points) carried the Skipjacks offensively. Davon Heath, one of the team´s most consistent scorers this season, was limited to three points.

The Skipjacks, who trailed by 18 with 12 minutes to play, pulled within 88-87 on Newman´s three-pointer with 1:39 remaining. Chesapeake had two chances to take the lead in the final minute, but Heath and Newman missed jumpers before the Seahawks closed out the game at the line.

While the Skipjacks (9-1 overall, 2-1 league) couldn´t quite pull off the win, Chesapeake head coach John Mappas was pleased with his squad´s effort.

"We fought hard," said Mappas. "When we got down 18, we didn´t hang our heads. Our kids stayed very positive and kept fighting hard."

The Skipjacks didn´t come close to matching Cecil´s foul-shooting performance, making only 12-of-21 free-throw attempts.

"We just missed too many foul shots – and we´ve been a good foul-shooting team," said Mappas.

Chesapeake´s comeback didn´t surprise Lewit.

"They play a relentless style and they have some offensive weapons, too," observed Lewit. "A double-digit lead doesn´t mean a lot in a game like this."

Cecil used a 10-0 run late in the first half to break a 35-35 tie on the way to a 46-38 halftime cushion. The Seahawks (9-0, 3-0) then seemingly took command when they stretched their lead to 71-53 in the first eight minutes of the second half.

"I thought their size hurt us," said Mappas, noting Cecil had seven players listed at 6-foot-6 or taller, "and they were all quality players."

Chesapeake got back in the game quickly on the strength of its three-point shooting. The Skipjacks hit four treys – two by Preston Faulk (six points) and one each from Reeves and Terrance Wright (seven points) – in a 16-7 run that cut the deficit in half.

"Once we started pushing the ball up court we were getting good shots," said Mappas.

The Skipjacks kept chipping away at the lead. Wright hit a jumper, Lee dropped in two free throws, and Dawson sank a layup to finish a 3-on-1 break off a turnover in a 6-0 spurt that sliced Cecil´s advantage to 82-76 with 4:35 remaining. The Seahawks stretched the lead back to 86-79, but Chesapeake answered with five straight points, capped by a Reeves layup that cut the gap to 86-84 with 3:23 left.

Heath and Reeves missed potential game-tying shots on Chesapeake´s next two possessions before Bailey dropped in two free throws to give the Seahawks an 88-84 advantage. Newman, however, then drilled the three-pointer that brought the Skipjacks within 88-87.

The top-ranked team in the country suddenly appeared on the ropes – Cecil went the final six minutes without a field goal – but the Skipjacks couldn´t apply the knock-out punch.

After missed shots by Heath and Newman, Lowery sank two free throws to give the Seahawks a 90-87 lead with 28.9 seconds remaining. Cecil pressed the Skipjacks on their ensuing possession and forced a turnover when Reeves got caught in the air with nowhere to go.

Palmer then hit two free throws, but Heath answered with a layup to keep the outcome in doubt. Cherry finally iced the game by sinking two free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining.

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