Two high school boys basketball teams searching for an identity this season found ways to confuse each other for 32 minutes. In the end, the ball just happened to bounce Loudoun Valley's way.
Potomac Falls's Jason Lutman heaved a 28-foot desperation shot off an inbounds pass that hit the back of the iron but fell away as the Vikings eked out a 48-45 victory on their home court Tuesday night.
It could have ended differently.
Down three with 23 seconds remaining, it seemed that Potomac Falls would play for a final three-pointer to send the game into overtime. But Lutman drove the lane and threw up a wild shot over the Vikings' Jeff Hedrick, who has a six-inch height advantage on the Panthers forward.
Loudoun Valley's Travis Kidd spotted Anthony Long down court and hoisted a full-court pass that went too long. Rather than let the ball go, Long tried to save it and threw a no-look pass toward mid-court. The ball crossed the half-court line, resulting in a back-court violation.
"That wasn't exactly the smartest play at the end," Vikings Coach Scott Douglas said. "But they're still learning. I'm not going to rush this team."
That gave the Panthers five seconds to get off the final shot. The initial inbound pass went to DeMario McCleary, who led all scorers with 20 points. But the Vikings had four fouls to give, and they got to McCleary with 2.1 seconds left on the clock--forcing the Panthers to inbound the ball again.
"We had Lutman run to one spot and DeMario to another," Potomac Falls Coach Jeff Hawes said, "and whichever one of them got open first was getting the ball. For two seconds left, that wasn't a bad shot. He was open."
The end-to-end finish epitomized much of the second half. Potomac Falls scored the first five points after halftime. McCleary's third of four three-pointers put the Panthers up, 29-27. It would be their last lead of the game.
"They were just killing us with the three-point shot," Douglas said. "They shot the ball like they were the home team" early on.
On the next trip down court, Long hit a three-pointer of his own and was fouled by Potomac Falls center Ian Duff. The four-point play sparked a 13-5 Vikings run that gave them a permanent lead.
The margin stayed slim early in the fourth quarter, as neither team wanted to take control. Long's follow-up dunk with 4 minutes 3 seconds to play accounted for the quarter's first points. The Panthers hurt themselves the most by committing seven of their 16 turnovers in the final quarter.
"We still showed our youth at times," Hawes said, "and that's going to continue for a while."
Potomac Falls (2-2, 1-1)--Bouman 3 0-0 6, Lutman 1 2-2 4, Duff 0 0-0 0, McCleary 8 0-0 20, Embrey 4 0-0 11, Treon 1 1-1 4. Totals 17 3-3 45.
Loudoun Valley (2-0, 1-0)--Culbert 0 0-2 0, Carlson 0-0 0 0, Hedrick 3 1-2 7, McKay 4 5-6 14, Kidd 2 1-2 6, Long 6 2-3 17, Wyatt 2 0-0 4. Totals 15 9-13 48.
Halftime: Loudoun Valley, 27-23.
Three-point goals: Potomac Falls 8 (McCleary 4, Embrey 3, Treon). Loudoun Valley 5 (Long 3, McKay, Kidd).
CAPTION: Potomac Falls's Jason Treon grabs arm of Anthony Long, whose 17 points helped Loudoun Valley escape with narrow victory after desperation three-pointer missed at buzzer. Panthers hurt themselves with seven turnovers in fourth quarter.
CAPTION: Potomac Falls's DeMario McCleary, who scored game-high 20 points, swoops in for ball in front of Vikings' Kevin Culbert.