REYNOLDSBURG — It was a tale of two halves on Friday January 19th, as the Raiders returned home to try to avenge their loss at Gahanna-Lincoln from earlier in the 2017-18 season. With the game tied after one quarter, the Lions stunningly scored 17 unanswered points to start the 2nd quarter and seemed to blow the game open as a result. A bucket from just beyond half court as time expired in the 2nd quarter certainly did not help, putting the Raiders down 18 going into the break and in a situation where a lot of teams would find too difficult to overcome.
Not the Raiders, though. And definitely not in front of a packed home crowd on Friday night.
The Raiders (9-5, 2-4) trimmed an 18-point deficit down to one after outscoring the visitors 23-6 in the 3rd quarter. Reynoldsburg would get within one of Gahanna-Lincoln (11-2, 4-1) three more times in the 4th quarter and had a chance to send the game into overtime on the final possession of regulation. A tough running layup attempt from the Raiders sideline to the right side of the backboard in traffic by Elijah Thurston did not fall, and Cole Crosby’s putback attempt just rolled off the rim as time ran out, and the Raiders fell 60-58 in a heartbreaker in the Burg.
“We never gave up and we always believed,” Thurston said after the game. The senior guard would finish with a career-high 18 points in the loss to Gahanna-Lincoln, and he went off on Friday night against the Lions.
He would hit from downtown to open the game’s scoring, and leading scorer Tre Williams would hit from the post twice to give the Raiders a 7-4 lead with 4:40 left in the first quarter after a couple of baskets by the visitors. This would actually be the Raiders only lead of the game, as the Lions quickly took their first lead with a quick five points not even a minute later. The game was a back-and-forth affair from there, with Ben Fort getting on the board with a two, Williams knocking down a couple of free throws, Thurston hitting another three-pointer, and Fort tying the game with a layup as the game was tied 16-16 after one quarter of action in the Burg. It also stood this way just over a minute and a half into the 2nd quarter, as both teams came up empty on multiple possessions to keep the score the same with 6:28 left in the half after Fort picked up his first foul.
Then it was literally all Lions from there.
Fort would quickly be whistled for his second foul, and the Lions scored the basket and ensuing free throw. A turnover at the other end by the Raiders led to a quick layup in transition, and Reynoldsburg took its first timeout down 21-16 with 6:12 left in the half. Everything seemed to fall the Lions’ way after that, as they hit a well-contested three from the left corner, another transition layup, a shot in the post, a three-pointer in transition, and a layup in transition on consecutive possessions to cap a 17-0 Lions run as the Raiders found themselves down 33-16 with 2:56 left in the half. Defensively, the Lions forced a couple of Raiders turnovers and long-range misses during the run, as the Raiders still had not scored in the 2nd quarter at this point.
Crosby would throw a perfect bounce pass to Williams to finally get the Raiders on the board in the 2nd quarter with 2:45 to go in the half, and it was all Williams from there to end the half. He would score on three consecutive possessions for the Raiders to end the half as part of a 14-point first-half effort for the senior forward, but the Lions would answer every one of his baskets to keep Reynoldsburg’s deficit at 15 as the half seemed to come to an end. But Gahanna-Lincoln junior Josh Corbin, who would finish with a team-high 19 points, would heave and hit from just beyond half court on the 2nd quarter’s final play to stun the home crowd as the Raiders trailed 42-24 at the break. Williams would score to open up the scoring in the 3rd quarter, and the Lions continued their streak of answering the Raiders to keep Reynoldsburg’s deficit at 18 with 6:55 left in the 3rd quarter.
But the Raiders did not quit and found a rhythm on both sides of the ball.
Williams would score two more baskets to give him 20 points on the night, and Jamiel Goliday would get on the board with a bucket from downtown and a layup off a steal to cut the Lions’ lead in half as the Raiders trailed 44-35 just two minutes later. Malcolm Murphy would score from behind the arc to cap a 12-0 run for the Raiders to give the home team life, and the Lions would finally answer with two free throws with 2:47 left in the 3rd quarter to make at 46-38 in favor of Gahanna-Lincoln. From there, the Raiders would end the 3rd quarter on a 9-2 run thanks to Thurston’s third three-pointer of the night, along with two-point buckets each by Thurston, Crosby, and Fort.
Just like that, the Lions’ lead was cut all the way down to 48-47 going into the final eight minutes of regulation. And this time, the Raiders seemed to have all of the answers.
Gahanna-Lincoln would open the 4th quarter with a three-pointer, but Goliday would answer from downtown to keep the Raiders’ deficit at one with 7:05 to go. The Lions would then score off of an offensive rebound that rolled away from every Raiders defender under the basket, but Thurston would answer at the other end. It was still a one-point game as the Raiders trailed 53-52 with 4:48 to go.
The Lions would appear to give themselves breathing room and halt the Raiders’ comeback bid by going up 58-54 with three minutes left in the game, but Thurston would score with 2:38 to go before a shocking turn of events at the Raiders’ expense. Williams appeared the have an uncontested path to the basket off of a steal that would have likely tied the game, but he was whistled for a foul near the Gahanna-Lincoln sideline just before crossing half court. He would draw another foul and foul out of the game shortly after that with 1:45 to go, and the Raiders found themselves down 59-56 after the Lions split a pair of free throws. A couple of good looks from downtown in between that would have tied the game for the Raiders either rimmed out or were inches away from going in.
This would set up a wild finish in the Burg.
Thurston would sink a pair of clutch free throws a few seconds later to get back within one point of the Lions, and Gahanna-Lincoln would split another pair of free throws to extend their lead to 60-58 with 38.6 to go. Thurston would again go to the line, miss the front end of the one-and-one, but Murphy would get a huge offensive board and the Raiders called timeout with possession with 20.8 to play.
With the entire gym on the edge of their seats and after a few Raiders passes, Thurston would dribble from the Raiders sideline at the corner of the court and attempt a tough layup from under the right side of the basket as the clock was winding down. Crosby would get the offensive rebound and a chance for a quick putback, but the ball rolled off the rim and into the hands of the ecstatic Lions as time ran out as the Raiders would fall by the aforementioned two-point score.
The Lions escaped one of the craziest Raiders rallies ever, being held to only 18 second-half points after scoring 42 in the first half. Even though the Raiders came up just short when the final buzzer sounded, they have shown that they are capable of quickly turning the tables on anyone and making big runs in any situation. They also made massive adjustments after giving up 17 unanswered points in the 2nd quarter that they will certainly learn from going forward in the final month of the 2017-18 regular season, and still managed to put themselves in multiple positions to tie or even win on Friday night as a result. But the Raiders knew that they had to quickly move on despite the tough loss, with another game happening not even 24 hours later.
“We showed a lot of character coming back, but we have to bounce back at Zanesville,” Thurston would say.
They showed even more character by quickly bouncing back and on the road nonetheless, not even 24 hours after the final buzzer sounded on Friday night. The Raiders secured a 63-61 win at Zanesville in a back-and-forth affair with the Blue Devils on Saturday January 20th, improving their record to 9-5 with eight regular season games to go and half of them being division contests.