By DOUG DONNELLY
SYLVANIA, Ohio – If the Whiteford Bobcat boys basketball team needed a boost of confidence they got it Monday afternoon at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio.
The Bobcats went toe-to-toe with one of the best small-school teams in northwest Ohio before losing to Toledo Emmanuel Christian, 72-70, in overtime, in the first round of the Warrior Classic.
The Bobcats trailed by as many as 14 points in the first quarter, but roared back and had an 11-point lead late in the game before falling victim to freshman sensation Jerry Easter’s late-game heroics. Easter, considered by some the No. 1 rated freshman in the country, scored 22 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Warriors to the comeback win.
“We know we can play with anybody,” said Whiteford junior Luke Rasor, who scored 24 points in a great effort himself. “Hopefully this gives us momentum. We came up short, but no one is hanging their heads.”
Emmanuel Christian came into the game 6-1 with its only loss coming to a team from Huntsville, Ala. at a tournament in Georgia in November. They already have accumulated wins over Toledo St. Francis and Ottawa Hills, among others, and Easter holds multiple offers from Power 5 schools.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, were playing for just the second time this season after delaying the start of the season due to the length of the football season.
After shaking off some rust early in the game, the Bobcats were every bit as good as the Warriors, who are by no means a one-man show. Emmanuel led 16-2 with 1:12 left in the first quarter on a bucket by Easter.
Rasor hit a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Bobcats some momentum, then connected on three 3-pointers in the second quarter as Whiteford went into halftime trailing 34-26.
Shea Ruddy started the second half with a steal and layup to make it 34-28. His assist to Rasor made it 38-35 with 5:57 left in the third then Isaiah Joerin’s driving layup made it a one-point game.
The Bobcats took the lead on an Evan Parker bucket with 1:35 left in the third, then he hit a triple and Whiteford went up four. The Bobcats continued to play tight defense on Easter and the rest of the Warriors and led 59-48 with 3:29 left in the fourth quarter after Joerin converted an offensive rebound. They led 62-51 after Ruddy buried a 3-pointer with 2:07 left, its biggest lead of the game.
After that, it was Easter time.
He hit a running jumper in the lane and converted two straight three-point plays on driving baskets to pull Emmanuel within 62-61 with 33 seconds left. Elijah Walker tied the game with a free throw with 26 seconds left, but the Bobcats came back and took a lead when Caleb Willis got fouled and made a free throw with 11.9 seconds to go in regulation.
Walker, however, got the ball down into the lane quickly and was fouled with 5.3 seconds left and made one of two free throws to send the game into overtime.
Easter had the ball in his hands on every Warrior possession in overtime. He scored Emmanuel Christian’s nine OT points to put the Warriors in front for good.
Rasor’s 3-pointer at the buzzer made the final score 72-70.
“The first quarter was a little rough,” Whiteford coach Nick Abalos said. “Rasor really helped us calm down by hitting some big shots. We knew we could compete with those guys. We really started holding their drives to force some outside shots and that’s what happened. We got into a lead.”
In addition to Rasor’s 24 points, Cole Giesige finished with 14 and Parker 14. Joerin had eight and Ruddy seven. The Bobcats hit 10 3-pointers.
“In any given night it could be anyone of these guys,” Abalos said. “It was Evan and Luke’s turn tonight.
“Overall, the team did phenomenal. We’d like to have won the game, but I’m proud of how they have played.”
Rasor said Easter was a tough competitor.
“He’s impressive,” Rasor said. “As a freshman, it is rare to see someone be able to dribble like that and finish at the rim.”
Whiteford is back in action at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday when the take on Toledo Waite. Waite, a member of the Toledo City League, is 0-7 after falling to Ottawa Hills in the first game of the Warrior Classic Monday.
Emmanuel Christian 72, Whiteford 70
WHITEFORD: Ruddy 3(1) 0-1 7, I. Joerin 4 0-2 8, Rasor 9(6) 0-0 24, Willis 1 1-2 3, Parker 5(2) 2-4 14, Giesige 5(1) 3-5 14. Totals 27(1) 6-14 70.
EMMANUEL CHRISTIAN: Miller 2(2) 0-9 6, Walker 0 2-4 2, Easter 15(1) 10-13 41, Palmer 2(2) 0-0 6, Houston 4(1) 2-2 11, Rivers 1 0-0 2, Hayslett 2 0-0 4. Totals 26(6) 14-19 72.