MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
In a back-and-forth battle that pitted the heavily-favored Lejeune High School Devil Pups men’s varsity basketball team against the Spring Creek High School Gators kept fans off of their seats and on their toes to the very end aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Friday. The game was so close, it was thisclose and in the end, the Devil Pups left the court victorious.
With the game tied at 73 and 9.6 seconds left, Craig Wilson, Devil Pups’ power forward, went coast to coast and drove through the paint and scored a lay up to bring the undefeated Devil Pups just over the Gators 75-73.
The team rushed around Wilson to congratulate him with open arms and smiles. Fans faced each other and yelled with joy. The suspenseful and climatic game was something one would see in a movie, said a fan in the bleachers.
When a Devil Pups player rebounded a missed Gators’ shot, head coach Doug Erny called a timeout to discuss strategy. He wanted to drain the clock, and give his team the best opportunity to prevent the game from going into overtime.
“We put the ball in our best handlers’ hands,” said Erny. “We had a little back screen on the side for (Gaven Allen) as option two, and we had (Nick) Cruz in the corner for option three, but we were lucky enough to (succeed with) option one because (Wilson) did a good job.”
Offensively, the first half was not in the Devil Pups favor. Missed shots, poor rebounding gave the Gators the edge as the LHS team never took a lead. However, Craig Wilson built momentum for his team when drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to shorten the Gators’ lead to one before halftime.
The momentum was still there when Wilson drained two consecutive three pointers to tie the game. However, that momentum was short lived. The Gators built up a 10-point lead after Spring Creek’s Aaron Haggerty’s recovery of a rebound, and finished with a dunk to end the third quarter. Haggerty’s recovery put Spring Creek back in the lead with a third quarter score of 55-45, which effectively silenced the LHS fan base.
As the fourth quarter began, LHS fans grew loud with chants of “Gaven Allen,” who had not played in the first three quarters of the game. After a minute of play, Erny put Allen in the game, satisfying the LHS fans cries.
With Allen in the game, the tides seemed to turn for the Devil Pups. Allen sank two points as soon as he entered the game, but he was going to have to do more to pull his team out of their slump.
With the score 62-49 and less than six minutes left, the Devil Pups proved what they were made of with nearly flawless passing, and both offensive and defensive rebounding
Their renewed spirit enabled them to score 26 points in the final minutes of the game and gave them the extra push they needed to secure another win for their season
“We had to dig (deep),” said Allen. “I was scared at first, but we found a way to make a comeback.”
Wilson, who was all smiles on the court after the game, said the game was the best time of his life.
“It was crazy,” said Wilson. “This was one of my favorite games in my high school career. We had a little bit of a challenge in the beginning of game, but in the end we came together and teamwork is what made it happen.”
The Devil Pups performance, which began with lackluster appeal and ended in a comeback that had their fans on their feet, could be attributed to the fact most of the players just finished the football season.
“They’re working themselves back into basketball playing condition,” said Erny. “Our defense is pretty good and our offense is a little shabby.”
Aside from the transition, other setbacks forced Erny to make key decisions by frequently changing the team roster – especially when players move with their families to new duty stations.
“We’ve had a lot of groups transferred in and out,” said Erny. “It’s a transient community, but the (basketball) team I’ve had has been a cornerstone for the last three years. We try to make the best unified group that we can get with whoever shows up.”
Wilson and Allen are two of the Devil Pups’ top players; both are actively sought out by colleges and part of the starting line-up. Nick Cruz, Kyle Ford and Anton Crutcher are also part of the starting line-up, but the five players didn’t start during Friday’s game.
“Our starting five are our best players, but it’s not always about using your best players,” said Erny. “We used a different combination of players, and we had them playing positions that they weren’t used to, but everyone worked with it.”
The new starting line-up was a change of pace for the Devil Pups who seemed to struggle with their offense throughout the majority of the game. They continued to bring the heat throughout the third quarter, draining shot after shot to keep up with the Gators, but it wasn’t enough.
Erny said they were behind so they had to do some trapping by stepping-up their defensive squad near the end of the game.
“We’re please by the outcome,” said Erny. “Our defense was pretty good (in the fourth quarter). Big kudos (goes) to (Matt) Munoz, (Gary)Whitaker and (Qaasim) Gray. They came up with three of four steals and then we’d bring Cruz and Ford in. Spring Creek has a hell of a basketball team. We were lucky to win that one.”
The Devil Pups remain undefeated, and they will try to maintain their perfect record in their game against (please input the next game).