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Late free throw sends Stone past Annapolis, 75-74

The stands were roaring at both ends, with Annapolis supporters stomping their feet as Thomas Stone’s Gary Grant stepped to the line for his second free throw attempt after missing the first. The game was tied and three-tenths of a second remained on the clock.

Grant made the second shot, spoiled Annapolis’ effort and made a winner of 1973 grad Dale Lamberth with the clutch 75-74 victory.

Grant had 32 points and 10 rebounds and engaged in a great battle versus Annapolis (1-1) sophomore Byron Ireland, who had a game-high 33 points. Grant had 12 in the fourth quarter and Ireland had 13.

“That's the type of energy that makes you love basketball,” Grant said. “The crowd was cheering both ways and it was good competition; that is a good team right there.”

Grant finished 12 for 17 from the foul line, including that final 1 for 2 effort.

“It felt great to make that shot because I knew I was running all next practice if I didn’t.”

The Panthers were outstanding in spots, frustrating in others. The team jumped out to a 15-6 lead in the first quarter, only to surrender the first of three double-digit runs to the Cougars (4-0).

“It is frustrating for me because we do well and play hard in practice and in our scrimmages and first game, and then they did not come out ready to play,” Annapolis coach Dan Smalley said. “That falls on me, but it is hard to fix that from the bench.”

Smalley was confined to the bench as Xavier Green received a technical for dunking in the pre-game lines. Stone went up by two before a clock ticked off. That did not seem to bother Ireland at all. He made two 3-pointers in the first quarter and scored at least seven points in each frame. The sophomore was competent on the ball, had a nice hitch step to shake off defenders and made 13 field goals in the game, including five 3-pointers.

“Byron got to play a lot of minutes last year and we have a very inexperienced team overall, so he and Xavier (Green) are the people we know we can go to early as everyone gets minutes in,” Smalley said. “He played really well tonight.”

Trailing by five early in the third, Smalley called a timeout and told his team he was not seeing any life out there. They promptly responded with a 12-0 run of their own, but could not hold the lead, thanks primarily to the Panthers’ inability to box out.

“We did not do it. We never did it and the other team was aggressive inside. That was the difference in the game,” Smalley said.

Xavier Green had 10 points but left the game with 2:54 in the third after accumulating his fourth foul. The Cougars responded with another run, but Annapolis held a three-point lead going into the fourth.

Again, Annapolis jumped out to a 60-54 lead with under six minutes to play, but again Thomas Stone responded, this time with an 11-0 run to give the Cougars a 65-60 lead with under three to play.

“Annapolis really whupped our tail for a while,” said Lamberth, Thomas Stone’s coach. “I thought we might buckle at halftime because they were shooting lights out. But, we slowed them up and Gary is just steady across the board.”

Zion Green, who had 20 points, hit a jumper and Ireland followed with a trey to even the game at 65. There were seven lead changes and four ties from midway through the third quarter on. The game was tied again at 67, and then at 69. Kevin Skidmore (10 points) scored for the Cougars, but Ireland responded with another 3-pointer with a minute to play.

“It was tight,” Grant said. “Coach tells us to fight every play and crash everything to get as many tips as possible.

It was tied again at 72 and at 74 after Grant made two free throws with 26.7 seconds left. Annapolis could not score and the Cougars had the final possession. The ball went out of bounds with just over a second left. The Panthers had good positioning, forcing the Cougars to delay their inbounds pass, but Grant got the ball inside and was fouled. The crowd yelled for a push-off, but it was not to be.

His made second free throw made a winner of Lamberth, who had not played his alma mater in more than a decade.

“I still stay in contact with a lot of my teammates; that is what athletics allows you to do,” Lamberth said. “I am Annapolis grown and I bleed Annapolis colors, but I bleed my colors as well now.”

Thomas Stone is a good match-up for the Panthers. Smalley wants to see what he has.

“We are trying to play good teams early because our goal is to be playing good teams at the end,” Smalley said.

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