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Bulldogs roll in 4th quarter to nip Mercersburg

January 11, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For three quarters, No. 3 Martinsburg's track shoes had rubber cement on their soles, leaving the Bulldogs' boys basketball team in a sticky situation Wednesday night against visiting Mercersburg Academy.

The Blue Storm controlled the tempo with their zone defense and patience on offense, frustrating Martinsburg for 24 minutes and taking a 32-29 lead into the fourth quarter.

But foul trouble, turnovers and cold shooting combined to cripple Mercersburg, as the Bulldogs outscored the Blue Storm 17-1 in the final eight minutes for a 46-33 victory.

"The way we played the fourth quarter is how we need to play the whole game," Martinsburg coach Dave Rogers said. "I don't know if we took this team for granted ... but we have to be ready to play."

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Isaiah Alford made the last of his four 3-pointers 24 seconds into the fourth quarter to tie the game at 32-32. After a Mercersburg turnover, Isaac Thornton hit a baseline jumper with 7:08 to play to give the Bulldogs their first lead in the second half.

Thornton made 1 of 2 foul shots seven seconds later after Mercersburg coach Mark Cubit was hit with a technical foul, making it 35-32. David Theis made 1 of 2 foul shots with 6:32 left to make it 35-33 - little did anyone know that point would be the last the Blue Storm (4-5) scored.

With 6:03 left, Thornton made the play of the game. The sophomore nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner while getting fouled by Neil Gordon, who fouled out of the game on the play. Thornton made the foul shot to give Martinsburg (5-1) a 39-33 lead.

Thornton scored seven of his 13 total points in the decisive 2-minute span.

"We told Isaac he had to be patient, and he let the game come to him in the fourth quarter," Rogers said.

Mercersburg went 0-for-7 from the field and committed seven turnovers in the final quarter, as the Blue Storm's ballhandling was hurt by Gordon's absence and Tim Rahauser's foul trouble.

It was a tough ending to what had been a promising performance by the Blue Storm. Knowing full well that Martinsburg wanted to run and gun, Mercersburg put the clamps on with a packed-in zone defense that cut off the paint and dared the Bulldogs to shoot from outside.

Alford made three 3s and scored 11 of his game-high 15 points in the first half as the teams battled to a 22-22 halftime tie, but otherwise, Martinsburg's offense was severely disrupted.

"When they control the tempo, they control the game," Rogers said. "That's not what we want. We want to push the ball up the court, press full court and wear teams down, and that's what we did in the fourth quarter."

Meanwhile, Mercersburg patiently did just enough on offense to stay a step ahead of Martinsburg. Kyle Roy hit two 3s in the first four minutes of the game in the Blue Storm's opening 7-0 run, and Theis battled his way inside for a team-high 12 points.

"Our kids did a great job, and so did the Martinsburg kids," Cubit said. "They forced the pace at the end of the third quarter, and they have some great athletes. They shot the ball well in the fourth quarter and made some tough corner jumpers."

Thornton and Alford each finished with six rebounds for Martinsburg.

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