Cornerstone tops Ellwood 65-60 in overtime to advance to regional finals

Published 11:07 pm Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ellwood Christian Academy Eagles forward Loveless Craig drove the ball the length of the court as the final seconds of overtime ticked away in the Dunn-Oliver Acadome. ECA trailed 61-60, but Craig saw a path to the rim as he had all game long.

There was going to be contact, but he went up anyway. The ball rolled around the rim and went in, but the damning whistle of the ref signaled a charging foul with 12 seconds left on the clock that forced Craig to leave the game and put the Cornerstone Eagles at the free throw line.

Cornerstone made it’s final free throws down the stretch and defeated Ellwood Christian 65-60 in the the semi-finals of the Class 1A regional tournament at Alabama State University on Thursday night.

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“Overall, the effort was there,” Ellwood Christian head coach Willie Shears said. “They played hard every possession. They gave it everything they had. It’s been a good season, but it came down to these 36 minutes to try and pull one out, and we fell short.”

Ellwood Christian battled throughout the game, and even had an opportunity to win in regulation. ECA had the ball and a 54-53 lead with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but a missed 3-pointer gave Cornerstone another chance.

After ECA’s Malachi Washington made his two free throws to increase the lead to 56-53, Cornerstone raced down the court and made a buzzer beating 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

The box score shows two teams who refused to give in. The leading team after each quarter only outscored their opponent by three points except in overtime, when Cornerstone outscored ECA 9-4.

The game changed for Ellwood in the second half. Cornerstone scored the opening basket, but didn’t get the lead back until midway through the third quarter. Both defenses were playing each other tightly, but ECA’s 19 turnovers cost them dearly.

ECA started the third quarter with a 30-25 lead, but were hindered by a four minute scoring drought. The drought allowed Cornerstone to catch up and they tied the game when John Stanford hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

The teams continued to exchange runs and leads for the remainder of the game. ECA had a 39-36 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Cornerstone’s 3-point shooting kept them in the ball game. Eriq Williams made three of the team’s six 3-pointers. He led the team in scoring with 26 points.

A difficult game became even harder when ECA forward Justin Bufford fouled out of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Bufford had 12 points and 10 rebounds when he left the game to jeers from the Cornerstone fans.

“When Bufford went out early we still felt like we had a chance,” Shears said. “We stayed in there and fought it out.”

ECA’s leading scorer Craig had to take over for the rest of the game. He had 22 points and 16 rebounds in the game.

When ECA was unable to close the game out in regulation,  it became even tougher when Craig fouled out.

Ellwood Christian’s season ended where it did last season. The team climbed up the Class 1A rankings throughout the year, but an admirable battle in Montgomery is where it ends.

“I’ve got no reason to be mad at the guys,” Shears said. “They gave it everything they had from October up until today.”