Free throws help Spartans top SSC boys'
STANDISH — Free throw shooting is often the bane of high school basketball coaches. In Pinconning's case, it's been a strength this season, and a clutch performance at the line in the late stages of Friday's NEMC boys basketball contest was the difference in the Spartans' 56-46 victory over host Standish-Sterling.
The Spartans' Travis Garbulinski and Casey Pashak each hit both ends of one-and-ones in the final two minutes to turn a shaky 50-46 advantage into an eight-point lead, while SSC was just 2-of-7 in the fourth quarter to thwart what had otherwise been a stellar comeback from a 14-point deficit.
"If we play hard, we're a pretty good team," said Pinconning coach Tim Floyd, whose team was coming off a frustrating loss at Clare. "We've been trying to get that message across to the kids. Sometimes we've taken plays off and quarters off, but we have to play hard all the time to compete.
"I thought tonight we did that."
Pinconning, which never trailed, was on its game from the outset, taking an immediate 7-0 lead. Trevor Karbowski's 3-pointer got the Panthers to within 14-8 at the end of the quarter, but Pinny went on a 14-6 run in the second period, with Andrew Holbrook drilling a pair of 3-pointers and Garbulinski playing a key role in the paint to put Pinny up 28-14 at the half.
"I actually didn't think we played poorly in the first half," said SSC coach Tom Murray. "We got some good looks, but we just didn't make them, and that's going to happen.
"It was a good quality game. I'm disappointed because I would have liked to win, but I wasn't disappointed in our effort or shot selection."
Of course, in rivalry games big leads don't always mean much, and such was the case this time. Holbrook opened the third quarter with a basket but the Panthers suddenly found their shooting touch, running off an 18-5 stretch that included a pair of Mark Lorence 3-pointers and another from Kevin Reeves. Lorence's second trey made it 35-32, and the battle was on. Holbrook, in a sign of things to come, answered with three free throws to make it a six-point lead, but the margin stayed under that through most of the fourth quarter.
"They made their run, but Holbrook's free throws answered," Floyd said. "He really played big. And Lucas (Foco) really played well too, especially in the fourth quarter."
Foco scored eight of his 10 points in the final eight minutes to keep it a two-possession game, but Karbowski hit a 3-pointer with under three minutes left to cut the Pinny lead to 48-45.
Holbrook answered with a baseline jumper, and Adam Gulvas hit 1-of-2 free throws to make it 50-46. But that was when Garbulinski, with 1:31 left, and Pashak, with 28 seconds left, made good on their free throw attempts while the Panthers came up dry on their end.
"Our free throw shooting was horrendous," Murray said. "And I wasn't too thrilled with our foul situation (as Gulvas and Cole Walderzak both fouled out). But the big thing at the end was trading off -- them making free throws, and we missing them.
"We're young, though, especially our guards. I thought we battled hard."
The final 12 seconds had more than its share of excitement as a loose ball scrum at midcourt involving at least four players from both teams nearly devolved into fisticuffs, though no technical fouls resulted from the play. And Foco, trying to dunk the ball on a breakaway at the buzzer, had to be helped from the court after his knee buckled, though he was fit enough to play in the Spartans' game on Sunday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Holbrook led Pinny (7-3, 4-0 NEMC) with 20 points, with Garbulinski adding 12. Lorence had 20 and Karbowski 10 for the Panthers (6-3, 2-2), who dropped into a three-way tie with Ogemaw Heights and Tawas Area for second place in the league, two games behind league-leading Pinny.
SSC returns to action Wednesday at Alcona.