By JON REITER
Class 2A No. 4 Providence and 2A No. 6 2A Clarksville advanced to tonight’s Silver Creek Holiday Tournament championship as expected, but the respective wins over Charlestown and tournament host Silver Creek were tougher than most anticipated.
The Pioneers (7-0) edged away in the fourth quarter at the free throw line to capture a 46-38 win over the Pirates (3-3), while Clarksville’s contest against the Dragons was very much in doubt until the final seconds.
Junior guard Calvin McEwen sank four consecutive free throws with six seconds remaining in the game to give Clarksville (6-1) a 45-42 victory over the Dragons (2-6).
The Pioneers (7-0) defeated Charlestown 51-29 on Dec. 14, but the Pirates put together a determined and scrappy effort throughout last night’s opening game. Charlestown was content to play a slow-down, half-court game to match Providence, and for the most part succeeded.
“Right now, we’re a pretty weak defensive team,” said Providence coach Lou Lefevre. “The whole fact that teams like to play slow against us holds the score down and gives the illusion that we’re a strong defensive team ... they scored on what, 75-80 percent of their possessions? We couldn’t stop them all night long.”
Providence captured a 14-10 first quarter lead after senior forward Dalton Duley nailed a three-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining in the frame. It was 17-12 Providence after Cory Cahalan’s three-pointer found nothing but net with just under six minutes left in the first half.
But the Pirates kept it close, giving the Pioneers what was likely their toughest contest of the season to date. A 3-pointer by Justin Conrad and inside bucket by Chris Braun tied the contest at 17 with just over four minutes left in the half.
Cahalan hit another 3-pointer — his third of the first half — to give Providence a 20-17 lead on the Pioneers’ next possession. Cahalan sank 3-of-4 3-point attempts during the first half but committed his third foul guarding Charlestown guard Aaron Daniel with four minutes remaining. The Pioneers led at intermission 24-21.
It looked like Providence was going to get some daylight after another Cahalan trey gave the Pioneers a 29-23 lead with just over five minutes left in the third quarter, but a basket by Tyler Combs and four consecutive free throws by Braun and Aaron Daniel narrowed the advantage to 31-29 at the end of three quarters.
The game remained tight throughout the fourth quarter, but Cahalan and Duley combined to go 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the final frame to help their squad capture the 8-point win. Cahalan led all scorers with 19 points.
For Charlestown coach Sean Smith, the close contest was encouraging although the Pirates fell short. The Charlestown defense held the Providence frontcourt combo of 6’5 Dalton Duley and 6-foot-4 George Knott and Ryan Pickerell to a combined 21 points, well off their season average.
“First of all, I thought our kids did a really great job of executing the game plan we put out there,” Smith said. “We got it down to 2 on a couple of occasions and we just couldn’t get that basket to get us over the hump. When you play a good team like Providence, every possession means the world — they’re all million-dollar possessions. You just can’t give them second chances.”
Braun, a 6-4 senior guard, led Charlestown with 16 points.
The nightcap between the Generals and the Dragons was a bruising, hotly-contested matchup that saw both coaches get assessed technicals and Clarksville’s two most potent offensive weapons — forward Aidan McEwen and guard Andrew Jones — foul out in the fourth quarter.
Clarksville captured a 77-47 win over the Dragons on Nov. 30 in Sellersburg, but Friday’s game was much different.
The Generals led 7-6 at the end of the first quarter and 21-17 at the half. But they never led by more than 3 points throughout the entire contest and trailed for most of the fourth quarter, including inside the final minute.
Jones, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, fouled out after he was whistled while defending Silver Creek’s Gabe Bauer with 2:30 remaining, and McEwen, who scored nine points, was sent to the bench after a foul away from the basket on guard Shea Durham with 29.6 left.
Luckily for the Generals, Durham missed both of his free throws with Silver Creek ahead 42-41, and Clarksville had a chance to win on their final possession.
With Jones and his brother out, Calvin McEwen became the de facto option for Clarksville, a role coach Jason Connell said the junior guard was fine with.
Connell designed a play for McEwen to get a shot, he said, but with that opportunity closing up, the junior drove to the basket, where he was descended upon by several Silver Creek defenders and picked up the foul.
“I haven’t been more proud of this team than tonight,” Connell said. “We found that way to win. When you are expected to win like we are, you’re going to get the other team’s best shot every night. We had a lot of things that didn’t go our way tonight, but we overcame that.”
After the play, Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman was hit with a technical after he protested the foul call. Hoffman said he believed McEwen drew little contact and selled the call well, but didn’t believe he was fouled.
Still, from 30 points to three points is progress, and although the Silver Creek coach was disappointed, he credited his team for fighting tooth and nail with the Generals.
“The game wasn’t won or lost on that call,” Hoffman said. “We had some opportunities to win, and we didn’t convert them. The technical was my responsibility, and not very smart of me.
“I thought our defense was really good tonight. Going back to last month, when we lost to them, we really contested them much better tonight. We did a lot of things right, it just wasn’t enough to win the ballgame.”