By Brian Paglia
The silence in the locker room was pierced intermittently only by North Clayton coach Martisse Troup's simple question, one the Eagles have forced him to ask after too many games this season: "How many free throws did we miss?"
When Troup has asked that question, the answer has always been, "Too many," and whether North Clayton's inefficiencies at the line cost them the game or not, it would certainly cost them hours of running as penitence.
But it cost the Eagles too dearly this time, for enough made free throws would have altered the outcome of North Clayton's 57-54 overtime loss to Alcovy in the first-round of the Region 4-AAAA tournament Monday night at Stockbridge.
The fourth-seeded Eagles missed 16 from the foul line, including 12 in the second half and overtime, allowing the fifth-seeded Tigers to mount a fourth quarter comeback to end North Clayton's season.
"Turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch" hurt us, Troup said. "Those free throws were big, because if we make those free throws in the last minute, we would have won."
There was no North Clayton player to single out. The free throw shooting woes plagued the entire roster, from leading scorer Zach Bradley (12 points), who missed four of his last six free throws after making his first six; to Jeffrey Newberry, who had a cast on his left hand that hindered his technique; to the usually consistent Torian Box, who missed his only two attempts.
The Eagles (15-11) went 17-of-33 from the foul line, while Alcovy (13-13) missed just twice (17-of-19).
They were most costly in the fourth quarter, because North Clayton held an 11-point lead with six minutes left after Jimmy Williams' baseline drive. Fittingly, he was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw to extend the Eagles' lead.
Alcovy slowly mounted its resurgence from there, executing its full court press and forcing North Clayton to make daring long cross-court passes that resulted in several turnovers.
Yet, no plight the Eagles encountered this season had been too daunting. Not the loss of freshman Marcus Hunt to injury early in the season. Not the emotional hurdle of the passing of Box's mother mid-season. Not Newberry's injury late in the season that he suffered in a game against Riverdale and caused him to miss North Clayton's final five games.
"We still should have won," Troup said. "Despite what we've been through this year, we still should have won."
· Stockbridge 87, Griffin 62: In a compelling showdown between Stockbridge's Chris Davis and Griffin's Shaquille Barber, the Region 4-AAAA player of the year, Davis outdueled Barber with a game-high 30 points in the Tigers' stunning rout of the Bears in their Region 4-AAAA tournament first-round game Monday night at home.
The Tigers will face second-seeded Forest Park/seventh-seeded Ola in the second round Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Davis scored the game's first seven points, third-seeded Stockbridge (16-10) opened the game with an 18-2 run and never relinguished the lead. Kevin Burke contributed 18 points and six rebounds, Dante Campbell finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and Antonio Anthony added 10.
Barber struggled throughout the night. The Tigers held him to three points in the first quarter, and he finished with 15 before fouling out. Pooh Appling led Griffin (12-14) with 17 points, and Oscar Moore had 12 points and nine rebounds.