REYNOLDSBURG — Coming off a close home win against Lancaster, it didn’t appear that tonight’s home game against Central Crossing was going to be a close one at first. While the Raiders offense struggled, the Comets caught fire offensively early on to take a 16-point lead early in the 2nd quarter and give the Raiders their largest deficit of the season. They even put a halt to a 3rd quarter run by the Raiders to go into the final quarter up 51-39.
All of this just set the stage for one of the wildest 4th quarter comebacks you will ever see by the home team.
Seniors KJ Walker and JJ Cooper led a 4th-quarter explosion on offense by the Raiders (13-3), who took the lead for the first time with 2:54 to go and held off a late push by the gutsy Comets (7-8) to survive with a 64-62 home victory.
“It was a tough first half, and then we came out in the second half, got it a little bit together in the 3rd quarter, and the 4th quarter it all came together,” Cooper, who had eight 4th quarter points and a team-high 14 total points, said after the win. “We knew we weren’t out of it. We have good players, good players, good offense, and we have this guy right here.”
This guy? A guy named KJ Walker, who had 9 points in the 4th quarter and seven of the last ten Raiders’ points in the final 2:56 of the game. This also included splitting a pair of free throws to put the Raiders up 64-62 with 6.7 seconds left, but giving the dangerous Comets shooters one final shot to tie or win the game potentially at the buzzer.
They quickly dribbled the ball up past half court, but were unable to get off what would have been a 30-foot, game-winning shot attempt before the clock expired.
“I just wanted to pressure and not let them get a good shot off,” Walker said of the game’s final possession by the Comets. “The player [who had the ball] was just looking around and couldn’t find anybody, and we were just pressuring them. But this gives us a big boost. We just know that we’re never out of it. We just have to stay poised, controlled, and we’ll always be in the game.”
Although the Raiders outscored the Comets 25-11 in the 4th quarter to emerge victorious, a slow start by the Raiders put them in an early hole that the Raiders stood in for the majority of the game. The Raiders trailed 21-8 after the 1st quarter in front of a stunned home crowd and 25-9 with 6:28 left in the 2nd, when Raiders head coach Scott Davis called timeout and talked it over with his team.
“I said we couldn’t play any worse,” coach Davis said of their 16-point deficit.
After the timeout and even though the Raiders offense appeared to spring back to life, the Comets seemed to have an answer for every Raiders basket. Despite outscoring the Comets by one point in a very high-scoring 2nd quarter, the Raiders found themselves trailing 37-25 at halftime.
In the 3rd quarter, the Raiders got back to within single digits of the Comets for the first time since late in the 1st quarter. It was a basket by Cooper that cut the Comets lead to 44-36 with 3:15 left in the 3rd, but the Comets ended the quarter on a quick 7-2 run to go back up by twelve points just like at halftime to stop the momentum of the Raiders.
And then the 4th quarter happened.
Cooper scored a quick basket, while Walker immediately stole an inbounds pass by the Comets and threw a perfect bounce pass to senior forward Arrington Dulin for a basket to get within 51-43 not even a minute into the 4th quarter. A jump ball forced by Walker stopped the Comets in the paint and led to another basket by Cooper, but the Comets quickly answered back to keep their lead at eight points with 6:00 left. Cooper than scored yet another quick basket, and the Raiders defense finally got consecutive stops to cool off a Comets team that seemed to be on fire offensively the entire night. Walker and Dulin followed with baskets on the other end, sophomore guard Ben Fort split a pair of free throws, and Cooper hit yet another 4th quarter basket to get the Raiders to within 55-54 with 3:01 to go in regulation.
Walker was then fouled and sent to the free throw line, and he hit both free throws to give the Raiders a 56-55 lead with 2:54 to go. This heart-stopping 11-2 run in just over three minutes by the Raiders gave them their first lead of the game after trailing by 16 points in the first half and by 12 going into the 4th quarter. The Comets would go back up by one with a basket of their own, but Walker answered right back to give the Raiders a 58-57 lead with 2:06 to go.
The Raiders would have the lead for good at this point, but it required critical free throw shooting by the Raiders and a few key stops by their defense to help them cling to their lead. Junior guard Elijah Thurston split a pair of free throws on a one-and-one, but Dulin had a huge offensive rebound for the Raiders off the missed free throw to force the Comets to foul Walker with 42.1 seconds to go. He hit both free throws to give the Raiders a 61-57 lead, but the Comets hit an acrobatic two-point basket plus drew the foul on Fort. The Comets missed the ensuing free throw and fouled Thurston, who swished two clutch free throws to give the Raiders a 63-59 lead with 34.1 to go.
But the gutsy Comets would not go away. A three-pointer from well behind the arc cut the Raiders lead to 63-62 with 28.1 seconds left and the Raiders turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds pass. The Comets missed a short, go-ahead two-pointer from inside the paint in addition to a putback after an offensive rebound, while Walker recovered that rebound and was quickly fouled. He split the pair of free throws to put the Raiders up 64-62 with 6.7 seconds left, while the Comets failed to get off what would have been the game winning shot on the final possession of the game.
“At halftime, we just talked about chipping away at [the Comets’ lead] and winning each four minute segment,” coach Davis said regarding the comeback. “We just talked about putting ourselves in a position with four minutes left in the game, and we did that. The big thing was that was we pressed and forced [Central Crossing] into a lot of turnovers, and they are talented players who are capable of making some tough shots. We’re just happy to get out of here with a win, and are excited for another opportunity to play again on Friday night.”
The Raiders (13-3, 3-2) travel to Gahanna-Lincoln (9-6, 1-4) for a division matchup looking for a sweep of the regular season series. The Raiders won 66-52 at home on Dec. 9th, 2016 in their third game of the 2016-17 season. The Lions will be coming off a 48-47 road victory at Westerville Central.
Tip at the Lions is at 7:30pm on Friday 1/27.
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