Wild comeback sends Cavs into final

Published 9:44 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Down by 17 points going to the fourth period, Lakeland outscored Indian River 23-6 in the fourth quarter to force overtime and eventually prevail 67-65 to reach Friday’s final of the Southeastern District Tournament.

Each of Lakeland’s three starting guards scored in double figures, led by Justin Watson’s 23 points.

A disastrous third quarter, with Lakeland committing 10 turnovers while making one field goal, seemed to put the No. 2-seed Braves in firm control.

Email newsletter signup

IR led 37-32 at the half and led by back-to-back three-pointers by Mike Bynum, a 5-foot-9 guard who led Indian River with 19 points, IR ran out to a 45-32 lead. The Braves kept rolling thanks to Lakeland’s miscues and led 54-37 going to the fourth period.

“I basically said we had to be patient. We had to play hard, not hold anything back and show people we had some heart and some courage,” said Lakeland head coach James Jones.

“As long as there’s time on the clock, we don’t stop playing,” said Jones.

The Cavaliers cut seven points off the Brave lead in the first 90 seconds of the period and got within 58-51 on a three-pointer by Tony Smith with 5:02 left.

Another big spark to the rally came on Steven Woods’ dunk, which was followed a few seconds later by David Barnes coming up with a steal, a fast break and a lay-up to make IR’s lead 60-55 with 3:32 left.

Barnes, Lakeland’s leading scorer who averaged nearly 23 points per game during the regular season, had a relatively quiet game in the scoring column with 16 points, but the speedy guard came up big in the final few minutes.

Watson was Lakeland’s steady source of offense throughout the game and his fifth three-pointer of the game made it 60-58 IR as the clock neared a minute to go.

After being on the wrong side of a 10-1 margin in the third period, Lakeland took advantage of a 9-1 margin against the Braves in the fourth period. That stat, plus Indian River’s nerves at the foul line in the final minute, helped complete Lakeland’s comeback.

IR’s Tashawn Griffin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 0:50 left. After an empty Lakeland possession, a missed jumper by Barnes, Bynum missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 0:18 left.

The Cavs called timeout with 0:07 left. Inbounding the ball near midcourt, Barnes got the pass deep in the backcourt and was driving by the midcourt stripe when the Brave defending him was called for a hand-checking foul.

With 0:03.9 left, and after a timeout by the Braves, Barnes sank both free throws to tie the game. At least on the outside, Barnes was calm and his expression didn’t change before or after the two huge free throws. Barnes made 8-of-9 free throws overall.

Indian River gained a 64-60 lead through the first two minutes of the four-minute overtime period.

The Cavaliers took the lead in a flurry of back-to-back fast breaks. Dekese Cowling rebounded a Brave miss, tossed an outlet to Watson, who passed ahead to Smith for a lay-up.

IR’s next possession resulted in a scramble under the basket and Woods saving the ball for Lakeland. The break to the other end finished with Smith feeding Watson for a lay-in and a 66-64 Lakeland lead with 0:39 left.

Foul shooting woes cost the Braves again. Dequan Browne made 1 of 2 at the line, but rebounded the miss and was fouled again. This time Browne missed both and Woods got the last of his 15 rebounds.

Woods made 1 of 2 at the line, leaving the door open for IR to draw even or go ahead in the final 10 seconds.

A three-point attempt by Bynum was off the mark. Barnes came up with the loose ball and dribbled out the last three seconds.

“They (our coaches) told us it’s never over. They said we’ve got shooters and guys who can penetrate, so we can’t give up no matter how much we’re down by,” said Barnes, who added seven rebounds, five steals and five assists.

Smith added 12 points, 10 of which came in the second half or overtime, along with six assists.