ROBERTA -- Through three quarters, Crawford County had what appeared to be a comfortable lead against Dublin on Wednesday in the first round of the GHSA Class AA playoffs, with the Eagles’ advantage hovering around the 20-point margin.
That comfort turned to nervousness and discomfort for an energized home crowd, as those fans saw the Fighting Irish claw back to trail by as few as five points with less than two minutes to play before Crawford County put the game away to win 96-89 to advance to the second round.
“We felt like they would come at us hard,” Crawford County head coach Clyde Zachery said. “We missed free throws. We made free throws in the first half, but going down the third quarter on in, we started missing, and I think we relaxed a little too much. I think we may have thought it was over, and they were going to roll over. You’ve got to play to the last buzzer.”
The Eagles (24-3) host Greater Atlanta Christian in the second round while Dublin ends its season at 12-17.
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The Eagles enjoyed a mammoth offensive effort from their frontcourt, as they have through much of the season. Forward William Jarrell scored 29 of his 48 points in the first half, denting the Irish defense with drives to the basket, a handful of crowd-pleasing dunks and five 3-pointers. Center Marcal Knolton muscled his way to 27 points, doing a bulk of the work in the paint.
“We like the up-tempo game and like to push it,” Zachery said. “We’re quick and like to use our speed.”
The Eagles needed every one of those points in the end.
Trailing 76-56 entering the final quarter, the Irish were not shaken. Dublin took advantage of the Eagles falling into foul trouble and drained some clutch shots to go on a 12-5 run, with half of the points coming at the free-throw line. A score by Juwan Wells and Raymond Williams helped get the run going, as the Irish steadily chipped away at the deficit.
A strong night from the perimeter helped. The Irish drained seven 3-pointers, three from Raymond Williams and two from Donovan Timmons, who had 14 points. Kam Pauldo’s 23 points led Dublin.
The Eagles were their own worst enemy at the free-throw line. Through the first five minutes of the fourth quarter they missed six out of eight shots from the line.
Dublin jumped on the opportunity. The Irish hung with the Eagles, even while Knolton and Jarrell converted shots to keep Crawford County going. The Eagles needed a late defensive stand with 1:42 to go with their lead cut to 88-83.
That’s when the Eagles’ tandem took back over. After two Jarrell free throws, Knolton blocked a shot, and Jarrell turned a loose ball into a layup. Just like that, Crawford led 92-83 and was able to lock up the victory.
“I think they understand that you have to play the full 32 minutes. They have a lot of guts and heart,” Zachery said. “They turn it on at times, and at times they kind of relax. These kind of games grow it back to where we need to be.”