By Matthew Yoder
It’s difficult to capture the essence of a hotly contested game without addressing the factor whistles played in determining the outcome. A questionable dribbling call with seven seconds remaining negated Arcadia’s chances to set up for a final shot. However, whistles alone did not lead to Arcadia’s 71-68 loss at home against Laurel, Del., last Thursday night.
The Firebirds have effectively weakened their opponents early this season by shooting well behind the arc. Against Laurel, they struggled in this regard, and at times layups further plagued their chances to climb out of an early hole they dug for themselves. From the outset, the intensity from both sides was undeniable. The crowd was equally alive and very much engaged. Both teams contributed to a frenetic pace early.
Tiair Bibbins stepped into good looks for Arcadia, but his shots just rimmed out. Laurel’s fortunes were not so. Robert Malone connected on a 3-point shot to open the scoring for the Bulldogs. That was followed by a steal and layup from Javier White, and an emphatic steal and dunk from Dontarius Jones. Jones roared with pride and the competitive tone was set. The Bulldogs opened on a 7-0 run and coach Rodney Armstrong brought his Firebirds into a timeout.
Lethon Williams slowed Laurel’s start with a rebound put back, but White responded with a 3 for Laurel. Arcadia’s 3-point attempts routinely rattled out until Kamron Downing spotted Kylen Wharton in the corner for a successful make. The Bulldogs were relentless in the quarter, however, scoring on the fast break with layups from Kylse Wilson or 3’s off the inbound to Bricen Sanders.
Even after an apparent block from Bibbins in transition on Wilson, Arcadia could not catch a break. Bibbins was called for the foul, and if not for a couple of layups from Wharton the start would have been a complete runaway for Laurel. The Bulldogs ended the quarter up 26-12.
Arcadia gathered its composure in the second quarter. Wharton continued his strong play, William Scarborough finally broke through with a 3-point basket, and Keith Grinnage asserted himself as a strong post option for the Firebirds. Grinnage made baskets off rebounds and spotted up defenders with great accuracy. Wilson and Jones continued to pace the Bulldogs, but the Firebirds effectively cut into the lead, drawing to within 9, 38-29, at the half.
The game tightened even more in the third quarter. Grinnage continued to impress, and though they played with an undersized lineup, the Firebirds crashed the boards and drew hard fouls against the Bulldogs. Arcadia was very effective in converting its freethrows and pushed the tempo to its benefit. Williams continued his strong play with layups, tip-ins, and makes from the charity stripe. A 3-point attempt from Scarborough just rattled out as the buzzer sounded to end the third. It would have brought the Firebirds to within 1, but as it is they managed to seriously get within striking distance.
The action in the fourth quarter was tremendously tense. Sanders opened with a layup for the Bulldogs. Bibbins then hit a floater down the lane, and on the following possession fed Grinnage for a turnaround jump shot. Grinnage would finish with 12 points, providing impressive play in the paint. With the shot, the Firebirds climbed to within 2 of the lead. Arcadia then went cold again from behind the arc, and Laurel pushed the pace more in transition.
The Bulldogs made a series of layups, and were now the aggressors, drawing a host of fouls. Laurel extended its lead to 8 quickly from a fast break surge but did not help itself at the free throw line. Laurel’s foul shooting fell completely flat, and Arcadia responded. Williams assisted Grinnage, then Scarborough passed the ball to Wharton for a one-handed floater.
DaJuan Bailey provided an immediate spark from the Frirebirds’ bench with a put back, and then electrified the crowd with a bank shot 3-pointer, which brought Arcadia to within 3 with 32 seconds remaining.
Bailey provided 8 points in limited playing time, and after another make, the Firebirds were within 1. Laurel’s failure to make free throws further complicated its chances, and with 7 seconds Arcadia pushed the ball up court with a chance to win. Arcadia was called for a travel at midcourt, which sparked a decidedly raucous reaction of displeasure from the crowd. Arcadia fouled on Laurel’s inbound, and Wilson finally broke the Bulldogs drought from the line.
With only our seconds left, Scarborough moved the ball up court, heaving a 3 that rattled out, sending Arcadia to its first loss of the season, albeit one in which the Firebirds fought hard to the end against a formidable opponent. In addition to Grinnage, two other Firebirds finished with double figures in points. Williams led with 17 points, and Wharton added a solid 14. The Bulldogs ended with four players in double figures. Wilson was the high scorer for the game, finishing with 19 and was backed by White with 18, Jones with 13, and Sanders with 12.
The Firebirds next compete in the Governor’s Challenge tournament in Salisbury, Md., starting December 28.