EA boys shock Jay
By By Lori Dann
This game didn't determine any championships.
But it may have determined a great deal about the future success of the Escambia Academy Cougars as they head toward the postseason.
EA pulled off what many would consider to be an upset of epic proportions Saturday night, stunning a solid Jay team 64-62 in overtime in front of a packed house in Canoe.
Rarely do AISA schools venture into the public school ranks in any sport, but the Cougars did so with a purpose Saturday. They were playing for pride, eager to show that they could play with the "big boys" like Riley Nelson, one of the top scorers in the area.
Nelson got his usual 30 points against the Cougars, but EA's Josh Lilly did even better, finishing with 36. It was Lilly's two free throws with 2.3 seconds left in regulation which sent the game into overtime.
His three-pointer at the 2:32 mark of overtime gave EA its first lead since the third quarter, and he added two more clutch free throws with 33 seconds left to help seal the win.
EA began the game on an emotional high and rode that emotion to an early 14-5 lead. By the end of the first period the Cougars were up 22-13, and by halftime they had increased their advantage to 22-13 as Jay had difficulty handling their fullcourt pressure defense.
Lilly scored 18 points during the first half while Nelson had just seven and was held scoreless in the second period.
The third quarter, however, was a different story. Nelson took control on the offensive end of the floor, scoring 12 points during a 20-5 run, including a three-pointer with 43 seconds left in the quarter which gave the Royals their first lead of the game. The Cougars actually went scoreless for the final 3:23 of the period and it appeared that victory would escape their grasp.
Jay took its largest lead of the game early in the fourth period at 42-36. The Royals were still up by four heading into the final minutes, but missed free throws would be their downfall. Jay hit just 3 of 10 chances from the line in the final period.
With 35.5 seconds left, Beasley hit an inside bucket to pull EA within two at 48-46. Jay hit a pair of free throws to extend its lead back to four, but Lilly responded with a three-pointer from the top of the key to make it 50-49, and the Cougars quickly called a timeout with 7.3 seconds to play.
EA committed a quick foul on the inbounds play, sending Nelson to the free throw line with just 6.7 seconds to play. Nelson hit the first shot but missed the second and Beasley grabbed the rebound. The outlet pass went to Lilly who was fouled from behind as he crossed midcourt.
Lilly calmly stepped to the line with 2.3 seconds to go and the outcome of the game resting on his two free throws. After he hit the first, Jay called a timeout to try to ice him.
In the EA huddle, Prewett planned for what was next.
Sure enough, Lilly made it and the Royals' desperation shot was off the mark, sending the game into overtime.
Before the fourth quarter ended, Jay lost its top post player to fouls. Early in the overtime, they lost another. That opened things up for Beasley, who had two buckets, a free throw and a rebound in the opening minute of overtime to give EA a 56-51 advantage.
Daniel Smith kept Jay close with a three-pointer, but Lilly matched him with his third trey of the night. The Royals closed within a single point in the final minute, but Lilly hit two more clutch free throws at the 33.3 second mark to make it 63-60.
Naturally, Jay looked to Nelson to tie it, but his three-point attempt was no good, and Beasley snagged the rebound. Forced to foul, the Royals sent Hardy to the free throw line, and the senior guard connected on the second of his two attempts to make it a 64-60 game with 10.8 seconds to play.
Jay had one last bucket but it left them two points shy on the scoreboard as the Cougars celebrated a monumental victory.
Following behind Lilly in the scoring column for EA were Beasley with 11 points, including seven of the Cougars' 13 in overtime; Justin Shirley with nine; Mark Hall with five and Hardy with three.
EA improved to 12-11 with the win and was scheduled to face Mobile Christian on Tuesday. The Cougars will travel to Grove Hill Thursday to begin play in the area tournament, where they own the top seed.