BY KEVIN CUSHINGBERRY JR., EDITOR IN CHIEF
It’s on to the national semifinals for the Eastfield Harvesters, who rallied from a 12-point first half deficit to win their opening game at the NJCAA Division III national tournament Thursday in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y.
Sophomore forward Mike Love hit a three-point shot with .9 seconds left in overtime to give the Harvesters the 101-99 overtime victory over Caldwell Community and Technical College of North Carolina.
The game was back and forth with several lead changes in the first five minutes.Caldwell guard Elijah Hampton connected on a three-pointer as he was fouled seven minutes into the half, then made the free throw to put the Cobras up by seven points.
Eastfield tried to answer but turned the ball over, and Caldwell center Cordaris Townes converted on a breakaway dunk. Then Elijah Hampton had his third three-pointer of the first 10 minutes, putting the Cobras up by 12.
Caldwell forward Jontavian Hall flexed his arms at the Eastfield bench, and Harvesters guard Oscar Lewis responded with five straight points on the offensive end, pulling the Harvesters back within six points with seven minutes to go.
Semar Farris converted a steal into a layup on the other end, bringing the Harvesters within three points, 32-29, with five minutes to go in the first half.
After being called for several fouls in the final minutes of the first half, the Harvesters were down nine points, 49-40, at halftime.
Eastfield tried to close the gap early in the second half, but every time the Harvesters came close, the Cobras had an answer. A floater by Brock Hunter brought the Harvesters back within five with 16 minutes on the clock. Sophomore guard Demarcus Metcalf checked in after a third foul was called on Farris.
The Harvesters kept the game close with some key baskets from Hunter. He hit three straight shots to make it a two-point game with 12 minutes to go.
Freshman Forward Andrew Maxie, an All-American nominee, returned from the locker room with 11:20 to go in the game. Maxie had left earlier in the half with hamstring tightness.
Metcalf hit a big three-pointer to tie the game at 61-61 for the first time since early in the first half. That was the start of a 28-15 run, keyed by a couple of three-pointers from Love, that gave the Harvesters an 86-76 with just over 1:30 left in the game.
However, Eastfield committed three turnovers in the final minute and missed eight key free throws, allowing the Cobras to go on an 11-1 run and send the game into overtime.
The Cobras jumped out to a quick four-point lead, the Harvesters answered when Maxie was fouled on the other end. He made his first free throw, then missed the second, but Love got the putback to make it 97-96 with 30 seconds to play.
With the Harvesters down 98-96 with 6.6 seconds left, Farris brought the ball up and patiently passed to Hunter, who pump faked and passed the ball to Love. Love nailed the game-winning three-pointer and later hit two free throws to ice the game.
The Harvesters advance to play the winner of Game 2, which features the Mass Bay Buccaneers and the Rock Valley Golden Eagles. The semifinal game will be played at 4 p.m. Friday.