It was a play that Cleveland boys basketball coach John Jacobs had made his team practice for the past two weeks and the Two Rivers 3A Conference champions had worked on it so much, that they ran it to perfection each and every time.
So, down a point with 2.3 seconds remaining in its third round contest against visiting Havelock Tuesday, the host Rams ran the play, as it had been drawn up, to near perfection yet again.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, this time Havelock’s Jeffrey Davis hustled back just in time to block Sean Early’s layup attempt, which would have sent the Rams to the eastern regionals, off of the backboard and away to derail the Rams’ magical season with a heart-pounding 69-68 overtime defeat.
Shondel Granison gave the visiting Rams the lead with 2.3 seconds left in the extra period when he collected an offensive rebound on a missed 3-point attempt and laid the ball back up and in after Jeff David’s offensive put-back on the other end had pushed Cleveland ahead.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Zach Jacobs launched a three-quarter length pass to Jeff David, who out-jumped two Havelock defenders to come down with the ball and immediately found Early making a diagonal cut straight to the basket.
Early received David’s pass in stride, elevated toward the basket and let the ball leave his fingers tips in time to beat the clock but not in time to beat Harris, who had rotated back to the basket after attempting to prevent David from receiving the initial heave.
“We’ve worked on it in practice the last two weeks and it worked pretty good,” a stunned Jacobs said. “That’s just how it is.”
Havelock had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Keion Joyner’s attempt from the top of the arc was off-target in the final seconds.
In the overtime period, Havelock’s leading scorer, Kyran Bowman, fouled out and Isaiah Barnes took advantage of the double bonus, hitting both foul shots to give Cleveland a three-point lead.
The Rams could not add to that margin, however, missing two short-range shots on back-to-back possessions.
Havelock (15-9) then regained the lead thanks to a free throw from Joyner and a 3-pointer from Harris.
Havelock coach Daniel Griffee, who said although his team may have not been prepared for such a raucous atmosphere, explained they had been in similar situations this season and that experience may have had something to do with them persevering despite Bowman having fouled out.
“I think that helped out being in that type of situation multiple times during the year,” said Griffee. “The kids just have so much heart and they poured it out for me.”
Bowman was held over 10 points below his average and finished with 15 for the Coastal 3A Conference champions. Granison and Joyner had identical stat lines with 14 points and seven rebounds apiece.
Cleveland jumped out to a 16-9 lead midway through the first quarter and held the lead for the entirety of the opening half until Bowman connected on his third 3-pointer of the half with 10 seconds left.
Once again in the third quarter, Cleveland (23-4) jumped out to a sizable lead thanks to a 10-3 run to start the period but turnovers on four consecutive possessions down the court allowed Havelock to come back and tie the game at 42-42 heading into the final quarter of regulation.
Cleveland turned the ball over 21 times in all and made just 14-of-24 shots at the free throw line, preventing the Rams from pulling away and closing out their guests.
Seniors Isaiah Barnes (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Bobby Stenborg (18 points, six steals, five rebounds) led the way for Cleveland. Jeff David came up with 14 big points while Donovan Wright added eight.
The loss may have ended the Rams’ season, but the impact that the graduating class has had on the young program will be felt for years to come as the group of eight seniors leave Cleveland with back-to-back winning seasons, a conference championship and a 23-win mark this year.
In addition to Barnes, David, Stenborg and Wright fellow seniors Early, Trent Garris, Wanyae Hatfield and John Lopp have helped to build a foundation and raise the bar for future reincarnations of the Rams.
“I couldn’t have asked for more from my eight seniors,” said Jacobs. “They set the standard really high.
“The more we played, the more you could kind of see it…(we) kind of believed in what we were doing and working hard. We just picked a bad night not to play our best.”