O’FALLON Bradley Harrison, starting for Donovan Franklin, figured prominently in O’Fallon’s down-to-the-wire 55-53 victory over Granite City on Tuesday.
Harrison, a 6-foot-4 junior, scored a team-high 16 points and emerged triumphant after his airball was snatched on the weak side by junior Chance Armstrong, who converted a putback at the buzzer to give the Panthers the narrow win.
“Chance has always been around the bucket to pick up the trash when other guys ... airball it,” Armstrong said with a laugh. “I shot it and I saw (a Granite City defender) come to block it. So I kind of adjusted, but didn’t hit anything. Luckily, Chance was there. I saw him grab it and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe this is about to happen.’”
The Panthers, who improved to 17-7 overall and 9-2 in the Southwestern Conference, survived with Franklin, a senior, on the bench in street clothes. Franklin, O’Fallon’s career scoring leader, was academically ineligible for the game, but is expected to return Friday at East St. Louis, which is in first place and undefeated in the SWC.
Harrison, who has committed to play baseball at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, also made four 3-pointers, including three in a row in the third quarter when the Panthers righted themselves by outcoring the Warriors (10-14, 0-11) 20-11.
“I was just feeling good,” Harrison said. “Guys did a good job getting me the ball. I’ve got to credit my teammates. They found me in open spots. It’s as much them as it is me. I’ve kind of been struggling the last few weeks ... But I’ve relaxed a little bit.”
Senior Caleb Wegner scored 11 points off the bench for the Panthers, while Armstrong and senior Darien McClain scored nine apiece.
Granite City junior Kenny Berry led all scorers with 17 points. Senior Darrell “D.J.” Miller and juniors Tra’Ron Allen and Ron Allen scored nine apiece.
Granite City led 28-27 at halftime and extended the margin to 34-30 on Ron Allen’s basket with 5:07 to play in the third quarter. That’s when Harrison caught fire with his trio of treys, the last of which put the Panthers ahead 39-36 at the 3:01 mark.
Wegner followed with six points to help build the Panthers’ lead to 47-39 entering the fourth quarter. Tra’Ron Allen scored to get Granite City within 51-49 with 1:05 left, and after McClain made two free throws to put the Panthers ahead 53-49, Berry countered with two free throws of his own to make it 53-51 with 23 seconds remaining.
McClain missed a free throw with 16.8 seconds left, but the rebound went off Granite City. Miller, however, came up with a steal at midcourt and tied the game at 53 with a layup with 6.4 seconds to play.
After a Warriors timeout, Harrison got the ball on the left baseline with three seconds left. His shot went over the rim, but no Granite City player was there to block out Armstrong, who leaped for the ball and dropped it in with just ahead of the buzzer.
“It’s just like you draw it up,” O’Fallon coach Rick Gibson joked. “Rebounding an airball is the toughest thing because you’re looking at the rim. Chance didn’t quit. He could have said, ‘Brad’s taking the last shot’ and stayed out there and not hit the glass. But he went in and played until the horn went off. It was a good, athletic play.”
Granite City coach Steve Roustio went from elation (Harrison’s airball) to dejection (Armstrong’s putback) in a short burst of time.
“There’s an airball shot, but then we don’t get the boxout,” Roustio said. “You hate to lose like that. You hate to lose on a fluke deal. You’re up and then you’re down.
“But I’ve got to be honest with you: From my perspective, that game was lost in the third quarter. Defensively, we gave up 20 points. Twenty points. If you give up 20 points in a quarter in this conference ... That’s on pace for 80.”
Gibson said the Panthers clearly needed someone to step up with the 6-5 Franklin being sidelined. It just so happened that it was Franklin’s replacement, Harrison.
“He was good,” Gibson said. “We needed that from him. That third quarter was big. He played solid. He did a lot of good things. He’s definitely capable of doing that. He gets a lot of credit for being a good baseball player, but he’s a heck of a basketball player as well.”
Harrison said not having Franklin made it tough on both ends of the floor.
“But I think we still did all right,” he said. “We’re still a team, we still move the ball, we still work. But it definitely makes a difference when he’s not on the floor.”