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Raiders almost pull off epic upset

By: Greg Bird

It nearly was a comeback win for the ages Tuesday night.

The Raiders, in a hostile environment at Pulaski County, dug themselves in a big hole early, but rallied back several times and nearly stole a victory against the Maroons on their home court. In the end, thanks to free throws, Pulaski prevailed, 79-68, but the Raiders came out of the game with a renewed confidence after nearly toppling the tough Maroon squad.

The Pulaski County gym was wild and raucous as the school celebrated their football team’s state championship from last weekend, and the atmosphere may have played a part in McCreary’s sluggish start.

The Raiders missed their first four shots and committed three turnovers in the opening minutes as the Maroons stormed out to a 12-0 lead in the first three minutes.

Coach Robert Jones burned two free throws during the run in an attempt to regroup his squad, but it looked like McCreary was going to be outmatched.

“I think we came out and were a little intimidated by the crowd,” Coach Jones said after the game. “We were intimidated early.”

The intimidation factor appeared to have worn off as the Raiders made five of their next six shot attempts and cut the Maroons’ lead in half, 17-11.

The game was very physical, and most of the scoring over the course of the night came from in the paint or the free throw line.

Of the Raiders’ 25 baskets made from the floor, only five came from outside the paint, all three-pointers. Pulaski had similar numbers: of only 26 baskets made, three were from behind the three-point line and six were just outside of the paint.

“Pulaski is a big, strong and physical team,” Jones said. “They like to play inside, and I think we did well matching up with them.”

The Maroons regained control in the second quarter, taking advantage of some McCreary foul trouble, and took a 41-29 lead into halftime.

In the opening minutes of the third quarter the teams played even, but with just over three minutes left McCreary started to push back. Invigorated by strong play off the bench the Raiders began to cut into the lead and put the Maroons on their heels. McCreary’s bench contributed 16 second half points to the score, helping the Raiders turn up the heat on their opponent.

Gavin Smith entered the game and promptly went to the line after drawing a foul. The Sophomore hit both shots and followed the play with a 3-pointer just 15 seconds later. On the Raiders’ next trip down the floor Smith contributed another basket and free throw that cut the lead down to 7.

Freshman Hunter Jones had a big game for McCreary as well. After Pulaski missed a pair of free throws following Smith’s run, Jones cut through the lane for a basket and an added free throw that pulled McCreary to within 4-points, 57-53 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.

Pulaski responded with a basket on their end, but Jones tried to power his way through the lane on the next possession and drew a hard foul for his effort. The young man was shaken up on the play, but insisted he shoot the free throws despite the pain. Missing both shots the Maroons controlled the rebound, and scored the final points in the quarter to take a 61-53 lead into the final frame.

The Raiders opened the fourth quarter with a statement play. Junior guard Tyler Longmire knifed through the lane for a lay-up attempt, but the ball bounced off the rim. Fortunately Kyle Tucker was following on the play and caught the ball as it bounced and slammed it home for the basket.

The Raiders kept the Maroons’ lead under 10-points for the next few minutes and started to mount another comeback try.

With 3:50 left in the game Freshman Ryan Jones played an offensive rebound for a backside tip-in to cut the lead to 5. Pulaski committed a turnover on their next possession and the Raiders capitalized with another basket off a rebound from Tucker that pulled McCreary to within 3-points, 69-66.

With time running out the Maroons went in to a stall and the Raiders were forced to foul in an effort to preserve time.

Fouls were a big factor in the game, no more so than the final minutes when every foul sent someone to the line for Pulaski. The Maroons hit 8 of 11 down the final stretch to preserve the lead and seal the victory.

“Once we settled in, we came back and made it a 3-point game ,” Jones said. “We are gaining a lot of experience for our younger kids. Our older kids are starting to step up. We are getting better. They played hard and we laid it on the line tonight.”

Kyle Tucker and Hunter Jones led the Raiders in scoring with 16 each. Tyler Long Mire and Gavin Smith both finished with 10, followed by Ryan Jones with 8, Codey Phillips with 3, Cole Kidd and Brandon Troxell with 2 and Caleb Dixon with 1.

The loss drops the Raiders’ record to 2-3 to open the season.

McCreary had a strong weekend playing at Barbourville in a three-game tournament. The Raiders opened the weekend with a 90-53 win over Middlesboro, followed by a 81-66 win over Oneida Baptist Institute Friday. Their streak ended Saturday with a 88-61 loss to host Barbourville.

McCreary will play in the Bowman Classic this weekend at Lynn Camp, with a rematch against Oneida Baptist on Thursday, Lynn Camp on Friday and Pineville on Saturday.

McCreary will travel to Model Tuesday night as well.

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