OAKLEAF - Two weeks ago inside a standing room only Raiderdome, the Orange Park Raiders pulled out a thrilling 43-42 win over Oakleaf with a last second layup and free throw.
On Friday night, at Oakleaf, the rematch again was standing room only at the Palace of Oakleaf, the Knights took the lessons learned from that matchup to turn the tables on the Raiders. Eerily and similarly tied at 42 with 2:09, Oakleaf forward Corey Humbles blocked a Kadin Elmore jump shot, then took the ball to the corner to hit a 3-pointer to get his team ahead 45-42.
Then came the lessons learned.
“We had the ball, that was really all it was,” said Knights Head Coach Jason Price.
The Knights drained precious seconds off the clock with possession, then used tactical fouls to keep Orange Park from getting off shots. The Knights pushed on to a thrilling 49-44 final, keeping Oakleaf on a three-game win streak.
“The games between us are always close," said Price. "It’s always going to be a battle. We almost had exactly the same game, just in our house this time. The atmosphere was great tonight.”
At the half, it was anyone’s game with a 26-21 Oakleaf advantage. After the break, the Raiders methodically clawed back into the mix with a three point deficit 37-34 at the close of the third quarter.
As the final quarter started, the intensity ratcheted up by the minute. With 4:43 remaining, Oakleaf held a one point lead 39-38. Off a Oakleaf throw in, Orange Park stole the ball and drained it for a 42-41 lead. On the following throw-in, the Raiders again stole the ball and attempted a three-pointer. Off the miss and rebound, Oakleaf had a fast break, and were fouled. The Knights only hit one of the free throws to tie the game at 42.
The Knights deployed several surgical intentional fouls that took time off the clock, and only allowed the Raiders to repeat throw-ins.
“We learned. We learned from our mistakes," said Price. "We learned so much from that last game, like how to foul smart. Take time off the clock, fouling appropriately, knowing what to do and when to do it. It was great to see that maturation.”
With time wearing away, and not able to shoot, the Raiders may have let the frustration get into their heads. Off another Oakleaf timeout, the Orange Park throw-in was robbed by Oakleaf’s Quintez Johnson. Johnson was fouled with 8.1 left to play and went to the line to hit both of his free throws for a 49-44 lead. The Raiders managed a final field goal attempt that bounced away as the buzzer sounded.
“Sometimes it’s slow, like a glacier, step by step by step," said Price. "Over the last 10 games, we started to mature. Our young guys stepped up and our roll guys from last year became stars. It’s what you want from your program as you move forward.”
The Raiders are entering district tournament play on a three game slide. The silver lining is all three games were lost by a combined total of 12 points. The Knights still have Baker County and Clay before starting their tournament.