HAVERFORD — As they walked off their home court, confusion hung over the Haverford School basketball players like a storm cloud Tuesday afternoon.
They could scarcely grasp how they’d seen a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, how they were dealt a 60-57 loss at the hands of Germantown Academy, how they’d seen their hopes of ending a 16-year Inter-Ac title drought mathematically dashed.
But at the center of that bewilderment, the central focus of the Fords’ dismay was one call that helped pivot the game in the Patriots’ favor and ratchet up the ire of the Fords.
With 2:22 left and Haverford School up five, Lamar Stevens hit the deck on a hard foul under the basket. The Fords staff rushed out to check on him, leading to a volley of calls back and forth. After what Haverford School coach Henry Fairfax termed “a negotiation’ between he, the officiating crew and GA coach Jim Fenerty, the Fords were charged with a technical foul, giving the Patriots two shots, the ball and the momentum.
Two minutes later, when Devon Goodman stole an inbounds pass and finger-rolled in what turned out to be the game-winner, it was that technical call on which the Fords fixated.
“My assistant left the bench to check on an injured player — Lamar fell on his back earlier this season — his natural reaction as a person that cares about kids is to check on him and see if he’s OK,’ Fairfax said. “Originally it was assessed that (Stevens) had to come off. Didn’t know that you could have a discussion, a dialogue, a negotiation about how that is to play out. And all of a sudden, it’s a technical foul.’
“I didn’t understand the technical foul because it was a really tough fall,’ Stevens said. “It could’ve been a really bad injury. They got a chance to shoot two free throws and the possession. They were pretty much given two points and awarded another possession to get five points or four. I think it was kind of just handed to them.’
For what it’s worth, Fenerty said he didn’t believe that call determined the fate of the game, while Fairfax was more miffed at the fact that his Fords were whistled for 11 second-half fouls to GA’s eight. And the reality is that more than just one whistle by the officials resulted in the Fords (14-10, 6-3) seeing what once was a promising bid to return an Inter-Ac title to Lancaster Avenue snuffed out with one game left in the season.
There were the three fourth-quarter turnovers the Fords coughed up. There was the fact that once Stevens (10 points, 11 rebounds) fouled out with 1:28 left, Shawn Alston became the sole threat for Haverford School, an exclusiveness that GA recognized and adjusted to with double-teams. And there was GA (20-5, 8-1) finishing the game on a 19-6 run, converting where the Fords couldn’t and wresting away a chance to play Episcopal Academy for the outright title Friday.
Much of that was due to Goodman, who finished with a team-high 17 points. Despite that total, he was bottled up most of the game by solid defense from Micah Sims, but he persevered when the Patriots needed him. He canned a crucial 3-pointer with less than two minutes left to bring GA within one. With 30 seconds remaining, he jumped a poor inbounds pass and eluded a pair of defenders mid-air to finish, giving the Patriots the lead at 58-57, their first since 28-26 late in the second quarter.
“I knew Shawn Alston was coming from behind me and Micah was right there in front of me,’ Goodman said of the game-winning shot. “I don’t know how it went in, but I just went to the basket strong and made the layup. … No doubt in my mind I was going to finish that.’
“He may be short in stature, but he has the heart of a lion,’ Fenerty said. “And when he goes, we go. Haverford tried to take him out of the game and they did a really good job, and then he just got tired of being taken out of the game and he did a good job for us.’
Goodman’s layup was a deflating contrast to the high the Fords had been on. They started the half on an 8-0 run, seizing a lead that grew as large as 44-32 late in the third quarter. A Cameron Reddish 3-pointer with 4:46 left in the game put the Fords up 51-41, seemingly enough to put away the Patriots and give Haverford School a chance to play for a share of the elusive league title Friday.
But GA didn’t go away. A deuce by Kyle McCloskey (16 points) got the Patriots to within 52-47 before the technical foul incident.
“The ref made some questionable calls toward the end of the game, and it’s hard to beat seven people,’ Alston said. “We had it where we wanted them, and the refs gave us some calls, technical foul, things like that, it was just a tough one. Unlucky.’
The Fords didn’t do much to make their own luck, either. They went just 2-for-5 from the foul line (including Reddish missing the and-1 for what could’ve been a momentum-stemming 3-point play with less than two minutes left) while GA was 8-for-10 in the fourth quarter. Their offensive plan devolved into Alston trying to outmuscle two or three guys on the way to the rack. He finished with 24 points, but on 23 shot attempts and didn’t get to the free throw line once despite Stevens being called for several soft fouls in the lane on similar situations on the other end.
However they arrived at the defeat, seeing the much-hyped quest for a first league title since Fairfax was a player with a star-studded lineup was a disappointing blow.
“It hurts not to win an Inter-Ac title, but everything happens for a reason,’ Alston said. “Maybe it wasn’t meant for us to get it this year. But we still have states to try to go out with something.’