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ATLANTA — A competitive basketball game is always an enjoyable event. But how the ball bounces, especially in the final moments, determines who will experience a moment of joy or one of disappointment.
In a classic Region 2-AAAAAAA battle between Westlake and Wheeler, an unfavorable bounce at the free-throw line resulted in the Lions coming up short 63-62 at home on December 7.
After a timeout which prevented a traveling violation by Kenny Burns (eight points), Westlake (3-4, 0-2) held a one-point lead with 5.8 seconds left until Jaire Eastmond (eight points) was fouled on jumper and awarded two foul shots. Eastmond’s first attempt from the stripe went in smoothly but the second one hit the rim before bouncing straight up then down through the net for a 63-62 Wheeler advantage.
Following another timeout, freshman Dillon Hunter (12 points) pushed the ball up the floor and attempted an unsuccessful, scooping layup while drawing a blocking foul with 0.7 seconds remaining.
Hunter’s first shot drew iron without a chance of tying the game then his second attempt rimmed out also and the Wildcats (7-1, 3-0) prevented a tip-in as time expired.
“Those two misses at the free-throw line sent a message to my freshman point guard and I think he is going to be a lot better after that,” Westlake coach Darron Rogers said. “I think we will win more like that than we’ll lose at the free-throw line with 0.7 seconds and you got the ball for two shots. I think that may have helped our team more than if we would have won.
“We’ve been stressing hard work, discipline, working on your free throws. To work that hard and miss the free throws at the end may make them a little more humble. Anybody that saw that game knows we are not a team to look over. We are going to challenge teams in this region and I look forward to the challenge.”
Westlake trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half before briefly taking a lead late. From the 3:18 mark to the 1:01 mark of the fourth quarter, the Lions went on a 10-0 run, thanks to three straight layups (the final one was a goaltending call against Wheeler) by Hunter.
“He’s a 6-3 point and probably has a 6-8 wingspan,” Rogers said. “Most teams have been playing him to pass and tonight I whispered in his ear that these teams are noticing you are more of a distributor. I said you now have to take some chances of getting to the basket. He did that and was successful. To be a freshman, I feel real good about having him for three more years.”
Quincy Olivari scored 14 of his team-leading 16 points in the first half and Kaleb Wallace added 11. Chase Hunter, who had two crowd-pleasing dunks in the second half, and D’Antaye Page both netted 10 points.
“I liked the fight in the team,” Rogers said. “We have played probably one of the toughest schedules in the state. We now see what our team is made out of when you play a team like Wheeler, McEachern and Holy Spirit [Prep] so I think we are on the right track. Now I know my guys got fight.”
After a 16-16 tie at the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats started the second period with a 9-0 run which led to their 35-25 advantage at the break.
Samuel Hines Jr. scored a game-high 17 points and Malachi Rhodes had 11 for Wheeler, which won its seventh consecutive game.