Irish streak into semis
As he addressed a postgame press conference, Charleston Catholic's Nick George spoke of basketball's little things.
His comments were more than just hackneyed references.
With 28 seconds left in the game and his team leading by three, George took an especially bone-jarring charge to earn a trip to the foul line and move his team a bit closer to another big victory.
George and his Irish teammates saw their 16-point second-quarter lead slip to just two points in the fourth quarter but survived a frenzied Man rally for a 62-57 quarterfinal victory Thursday in the Class A state tournament at the Civic Center. A crowd of about 3,500 attended.
The No. 2 Irish (22-3), who have won 15 in a row and are competing in the state tournament for the eighth straight year, will face Madonna at 11:15 a.m. today in a semifinal game.
In that tense fourth quarter against Man, George scored 10 of his team's 20 points, hitting 6-of-8 free throws, and ultimately sealed the victory by converting two foul shots with three seconds left.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore, who totaled a team-leading 19 points, also spent much of the day hitting the boards - he finished with 17 rebounds - and, like his teammates, hitting the floor for loose balls.
"As a team, we have a goal,'' said George, "and I think all of us want to say that we left it all on the line, and we just want to do what it takes to win. If that means diving on the floor, I know [my teammates] would dive on the floor for me, and I want to do the same for them.''
George's all-court play has been a work in progress the last few years, said Catholic coach Bill McClanahan.
"He's starting to understand that being a leader on the team means more than just scoring points,'' said McClanahan. "If points are coming, that's fantastic. But if you need to play defense, if you need to rebound, if you need to sprint up and down the court, if you need to support your teammates, that's part of being a complete player. And Nick's starting to understand that. From my perspective, I'm glad to see him take steps in that direction.''
George is hardly alone in doing the little things, McClanahan added.
"I saw that from everybody we put on the floor,'' he said. "As a coach, the scoreboard's important, but from a growth perspective and from a program perspective, I couldn't ask for anything else. My heart just grows to watch them play. My seniors have heard me say this for four years. We don't define success in our program by the scoreboard. We define it by the ability to get the most out of what we have under the circumstances we're faced with. That's all we ask. That's a life lesson. If they do that every day in practice, in every game and for the rest of their lives, they will be nothing but successful young men, and that's all I can hope for.''
Catholic, which defeated the Hillbillies 62-56 in a sectional game two weeks ago, controlled much of the first half and led 28-12 midway through the second quarter.
But the No. 7 Hillbillies (14-12), who were making their first state tournament appearance since 2005, cut the deficit to 32-21 at the half and 42-37 after three quarters, capped by Jordan Simpson's 35-footer at the buzzer.
With 52 seconds left in the game, Simpson, who finished with 29 points, scored on a follow-up to trim the deficit to 57-55.
From there, the Irish's Keaghan Ritchie converted 2-of-4 free throws and George hit 3-of-4.
"We never thought we were out of the ballgame,'' said Simpson. "We're a hot-shooting team, and if we get going we can put up points in a hurry. We never really thought it was over. You saw us at the end; we made a run at it.''
Catholic's Haston Gerencir added 13 points and six rebounds, and Ritchie had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
In addition to his 29 points, Simpson had 13 rebounds and four steals for Man, and Josh Booth had 10 points.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.