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ELNORA -- Every player dreams of hitting the game winning shot for his team as the game clock expires. Eastern Greene senior center Ben Arthur made that dream a reality Thursday night in the opening round of the Second Annual Graber Post Buildings Holiday Tournament, giving the Thunderbirds a dramatic 54-53 overtime victory over the Clovers of Cloverdale.
Clover senior guard Craig Blair banked home a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 17 seconds left in overtime to give Cloverdale a 53-52 advantage. The Thunderbirds were the beneficiary of a lucky bounce out of bounds on a missed jumper by freshman Davis Russell with :0.6 to set up Arthur's dramatics.
"The basketball God's must of been looking after us tonight, cause Ben Arthur did what we wanted him to do on the last play," an ecstatic Eastern Greene head coach Andy Igel said.
Igel was referring to how the final seconds played out as he thought the play was not executed the way it was drawn up on the sidelines.
"To be honest, I'm not so sure that we did according as planned, but he (Arthur) went up and got it and got it and dropped it over the front of the rim."
According to Arthur he had to make an adjustment to the play prior to the inbound pass.
"Coach had us run a stack play, when we lined up for the play they weren't lined up the way we thought they would so I had Sam (Jacob) set a screen on a different guy."
Arthur was not the only hero on the play. To execute a play of such magnitude, it also takes a perfect pass from the inbounder, which happened to be sophomore Cody Sparks.
"I also want to give credit to Cody Sparks on that play," Igel said. "He put the ball in the perfect position for Arthur to tip it in."
After only two minutes of play it looked as if the Clovers were going to send the Thunderbirds back home with a lopsided loss, as they jumped out to a 10-0 lead with 6:14 remaining in the opening stanza.
Russell put a halt to the run with a trey from the right wing with 5:11 remaining to make it 10-3. After committing multiple turnovers in the opening minutes, the Thunderbirds shook off their jitters and secured the rock more soundly and only trailed 16-11 after the first eight minutes of play.
"I think we had the 'deer in the headlight' look", Igel said of the carelessness of play the first few minutes. "I think we came out in the pressure of the first game of a tournament and didn't respond. That's part of maturity, so hopefully we will learn that we can't step out onto the court an not be ready mentally."
The Thunderbirds turned up the defensive pressure in the second quarter as the Clovers committed more turnovers (six) than field goal attempts (five) for the period. Eastern Greene took full advantage of the pressure and held Cloverdale scoreless for the frame and turned a five point deficit into a six point advantage at intermission.
Cloverdale head coach Pat Rady was quick to point out the reasoning for the lack of production in the second quarter.
"They (Eastern) went to a zone and we didn't handle it very well," said a dejected Rady. "The 1-2-2 zone was very effective for them and we made some poor decisions."
Coming out of the lockerroom the Clovers decided to play a little long ball, as they connected on three shots from behind the arc and trimmed the Thunderbirds lead to 28-27 with 3:11 remaining in the third period. Just as in the first half, Eastern Greene had a response as they closed out with a 5-0 run to regain a six-point advantage heading into the fourth frame, 33-27.
Treys from Blair and sophomore Brandon Moon in the opening minute knotted the contest at 33 briefly before Blair knocked down a pair of free-throws to give the Clovers their first lead 35-33, since 6:34 before the half.
The lead would change hands on seven different occasions and be tied six times in the final minutes of regulation.
An offensive rebound and put-back by Arthur with :21 remaining gave the Thunderbirds a 47-45 lead, but Moon would be fouled on a controversial call with :05 left. Moon was ruled to be fouled attempting a three-point shot, awarding the sophomore three charity tosses to give the Clovers a one-point lead. Moon calmly sank the first two, tying the score once more, but failed to connect on the final attempt, sending the game into overtime.
Despite the loss Rady was pleased with the way his kids battled back after giving up their early lead and showed a lot of heart in the second half.
"I think our kids could have quit...I was proud how they hung in there and came back. We are just an inexperienced ball club and we just have to take these games and grow."
Blair paced the Clovers with a game high 24 points to go along with six boards and five steals, while Moon was the only other Clover in double figures with 14.
Arthur led the Thunderbirds offensive attack with 19 points and dominated the glass pulling down a game high 17 rebounds. Russell joined Arthur in double digits with 11 points.
The Thunderbirds will be back in action tonight at 6 p.m. against the winner of the South Knox-Washington Catholic in semifinal action.