SAND ROCK – If Monday night’s Class 2A, Area 12 Sand Rock-Spring Garden boys basketball game is any indication of what fans are in store for the rest of the season, then you better have plenty of popcorn ready.
The Panthers rallied from 17 points down in the fourth quarter, thanks to five 3-pointers – including three from Andrew Floyd. A pair of Cooper Austin free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining tied the game at 55.
Austin had a chance to win the game for the Panthers after driving inside the paint with 6.3 seconds remaining, but couldn’t get a good shot off to force overtime.
Sand Rock went on a 6-0 run in the first minute of overtime, but the Panthers clawed their way back again and make it a two-point game on another trey by Floyd with 1:10 to go.
Kaden Justice closed out the contest by scoring Sand Rock’s final five points, allowing the Wildcats to escape with a 73-67 victory.
“(Sand Rock point guard) Cade (Ballenger) told them right there toward the end of overtime, ‘Listen guys. We got ourselves in this spot. We put ourselves here. Now let’s battle out of it,’” Sand Rock coach John Blackwell said. “He’s right. We shouldn’t have been there. I guess we just thought we had it won. We got real complacent. They come down and got hot. They started hitting some threes, but games like that are good for you. It’s a rival game. It’s a county game. It’s an area game. It was a good game for us.”
As Blackwell alluded, Sand Rock (8-3, 2-0) built a 48-31 advantage on a basket by Ballenger with 6:32 remaining in regulation, but the Panthers (3-3, 1-2) didn’t back down. They sank five 3-pointers in a minute-and-a-half span to close the gap to 52-50 with 2:27 to go.
Floyd was the catalyst behind the Panther run.
“Andrew Floyd, I told him ‘You’ve got to go in and make some shots. If we’ve got a chance, you’ve got to make some shots.’ He just said ‘Yes sir,’” Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said. “When he gets going, he can make them. The offense was a lot of him. That allowed some other things for other people here and there. He really stepped it up big time.”
The two teams proceeded to battle back and forth the remainder of regulation, with the Panthers having one last shot to win with 6.3 seconds to go following a Sand Rock turnover. Cooper Austin took the in-bound pass from Cam Welsh and penetrated through the lane, but didn’t get a good look at the goal for a game-winning shot.
“We were looking for Weston (Kirk) or Cooper on a backdoor cut and make a play at the horn,” Coach Austin said. “We don’t have time with six seconds left to do a lot, and I don’t like coming off screens a lot in that situation, especially on the road. I just wished we had got a shot off.”
Ballenger, who had 15 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, opened overtime with a scoring drive. Logan Wood added another bucket 30 seconds later to stretch Sand Rock’s lead to 59-55.
Ballenger was fouled on the Wildcats’ next possession and sent to the line, where he hit both shots to extend the Wildcat advantage to 61-55.
Welsh drained a trey back up the floor for Spring Garden, cutting Sand Rock’s lead in half at 61-58.
Garyn Sharpe, who led Sand Rock with 19 points and 10 boards, connected on a shot inside the paint to put the Wildcats up five at 63-58 with 2:13 remaining in the extra session. Justice later rang for an inside basket at the 1:45 mark to push the Wildcat lead to 65-58.
Following Weston Kirk’s rebound and putback, the Panthers trailed 65-60 with 1:30 to go. After the Panther defense held Sand Rock without a basket back up the floor, Floyd clanked in another trey to bring Spring Garden within a basket at 65-63 with 1:10 remaining.
But Ballenger countered with his lone trey of the game, extending Sand Rock’s advantage out to 68-63 with under a minute to play.
Weston Kirk, who led Spring Garden with 18 points, 14 boards, eight assists and four steals, was fouled driving the lane with 48.6 seconds on the clock. He calmly sank his two free throws to bring the Panthers back to within three at 68-65.
Justice took over from there. He made a basket and 3-of-4 free throws in the last 37 seconds to secure the Sand rock victory.
Justice finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Seven of his points came in overtime.
“He’s a 10th grader playing behind a real good post player in Xander (Bradley), and that’s tough, but he had an opportunity tonight to step up and I believe he did a good job,” Blackwell said. “He pulled some big rebounds for us. He made some good decisions. He didn’t turn the ball over. He missed a screen out or two, but other than that, I thought he did real well.”
Coach Austin felt Sand Rock “played smarter down the stretch” of the game.
“They made some plays (in overtime),” he said. “Number 4 (Ballenger) drains a 3-pointer up two. It was as pure as any shot I’ve seen made all year. I thought that was a big shot. I thought the transition bucket out of the sideline throw around (to Justice), where they run down the sideline and they threw it and we got beat two on one, I thought that was two big plays. They made some really smart plays down the stretch.
“We were kind of hanging on by our teeth down the stretch. Usually the team that makes the smart plays win those kinds of games. We’re just not ready yet for that right now, but I think we’ll be closer after we watch this film.”
Jacob St. Clair finished with 12 points for Sand Rock. Bradley blocked six shots.
Cooper Austin added 13 points, seven steals, three rebounds and three assists for the Panthers. Floyd finished with 12 on four treys. Ryley Kirk netted 11 points, including three 3-pointers, to go along with six boards, two steals and two blocks.
“If every game we play with Sand Rock is something like this, then we’re playing good basketball,” Coach Austin said. “They’re a really good team. If we can play close to them, we’re playing good. They’re hard to defend. They play really hard. To me, they play with a purpose to prove something. That’s a bunch of basketball guys who don’t play football. To me, this is their thing. They’re out to prove something. They’ve got skill and quickness and can shoot it. They’re a dangerous team.”
Added Blackwell: “I always want my basketball teams to understand if you don’t go give it your best, then the people you play against won’t respect you. Either way tonight, both groups were going to be respected because both groups really gave it their all. This is going to be tough (playing against Spring Garden this season). I’m not sure Cherokee County is ready for (potentially) six games like that. I know I’m not. I’m not sure my health will keep me up to it.”
Spring Garden 56, Sand Rock 33
SAND ROCK – The Spring Garden Lady Panthers connected on 11 3-pointers to post a 56-33 Class 2A, Area 12 girls basketball victory at Sand Rock on Monday evening.
Point guard Ace Austin accounted for four of those treys. She had 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and three blocks for the Lady Panthers (7-2, 3-0).
Forward Neely Welsh led all scorers with 21 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to go along with six boards, three assists, two blocks and a steal.
Spring Garden head coach Ricky Austin was pleased his team sank 11 treys, but it was the ones the Lady Panthers missed that stood out to him.
“We made some to get some separation, but we missed a lot early wide open looks that could have really got us a big lead by halftime,” he said. “I was glad we made some, but boy we missed some uncharacteristic threes. We’ve been making those. I was proud of the execution that our girls had. We got shots we want to take. Some of those girls who were missing shots, we’re going to keep taking those because we know we can make them. I thought we executed things as the game went along, and I was very pleased with what we were able to do to create shots for us.”
The Lady Panthers led 10-5 at the end of the first quarter, but stretched things out to a 28-14 advantage by halftime. Spring Garden held a 51-27 edge after three quarters.
Sand Rock (6-4, 1-1) came into the game shorthanded after recent injuries to Caley Garrett and Haylee Stansell. Katelyn St. Clair led the Lady Wildcats with nine points. She also had four rebounds and an assist. Haley Grace Lisenbee added six points, eight rebounds, two blocks and an assist. Lanie Henderson had five points and six boards. Maci Brown finished with 12 rebounds.
Coach Austin felt limiting Henderson’s production was crucial.
“You cannot let her get going from the 3-point line and you can’t let her get going driving. You’ve got to defend her really well,” he said. “I thought Neely did a good job of being there on the catch. Neely’s longer, so that helps defend. Neely got in a little bit of foul trouble, but I was really, really proud of Sarah Kate (McKay). She’s not been playing in a game of this magnitude. She’s not ever had to guard a defender of that magnitude in a game like this. I thought she did a really nice job defensively. I was really proud of both of their defense. We held her under her average, and that’s key for us.”
Abbey Steward and Lexie Adkison both added six points for Spring Garden.
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