Times Sports Editor
FARMERSBURG -- Sweet retribution.
That's the emotion that the Clay City Eels and, in particular, senior Kyler Rhodes, was basking in following Thursday's Tri-River Conference thriller.
The Eels were coming off a one-point, heartbreaking loss to White River Valley on Jan. 26 in which Rhodes missed a potential winning shot at the end.
Rhodes was able to reverse that against home standing North Central.
The Eels overcame a 15-point first half deficit to eventually see the game tied with 5.2 seconds left and Clay City taking the ball in at half court.
Coach Grant McVay drew up a final play for his team, getting the ball into his seniors hands.
"We felt if we could get the ball in to Kevin's (Cook) hands with his quickness he could get into the lane and maybe draw a foul," said McVay. "We had Kyler coming off a flair screen so we had multiple options."
Cook chose the perfect option, finding Rhodes standing in the corner alongside his team's bench. Just before the final buzzer sounded, Rhodes let fly a 3-pointer that found only nylon to give the Eels a victory everyone will remember for some time.
That Clay City even had a final chance at a win is a testament to the Eels staying strong throughout the second half despite falling behind 34-21 at the midway point.
At that point, North Central's aggressive, trapping defense was giving the Eels fits, forcing five early turnovers and holding Clay City scoreless until more than three minutes had elapsed.
By the 3:39 mark of the first quarter, North Central's 6'7 junior Donnie Abrams had five boards already and his team led 13-2.
The Eels couldn't find their stroke from the field either, hitting only 10-of-28 (36 percent) in the first half when the Thunderbirds seemingly got a hand on every shot.
But the second half was a different story for Clay City who played with an aggression of their own in the second half.
"We felt like in the first half our guards weren't strong enough and weren't attacking," said McVay. "But in the second half they did (attack)."
Jordan Defore, who sat for a good portion of the first half after picking up his second foul, opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer and Levi Seymour scored underneath Abrams.
The Eels slowly chipped away at the deficit, getting back-to-back drives from Defore and Kennedy sandwiched around an offensive foul from the T-Birds.
The Eels narrowed the score to 46-44 in the fourth period as Rhodes knocked home his first 3-pointer of the game and Cook scored off a rebound.
North Central, who couldn't miss a shot in the first half, suddenly went cold in the third quarter, going one-of-eight from the field.
With under two minutes remaining in the game, a free throw apiece from Defore and Cook knotted the score at 46-all.
North Central's Michael Woodsmall was fouled at the other end, but the T-Birds couldn't find their stroke from the free throw line in the final minutes.
Woodsmall missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:11 left and Cook got his chance at the line for the Eels with 59 seconds left.
The senior hit both for Clay City, who hit eight-of-11 from the line in the final quarter, compared to just one-of-three for the T-Birds.
Cook's charity tosses gave the Eels their first lead of the game at 48-46 and following a miss from Abrams at the other end, the Eels' inside presence, Will Kennedy got to the line and hit two shots, part of a 17-point, 12 rebound night.
Leading 50-46, North Central's standout point guard, Bobby Swaby drove to the hoop where he hit a driving jumper and was fouled. His three-point play made the score 50-49 with 35 ticks left on the clock.
The Eels weren't shy on offense, preferring to drive the hoop.
Kennedy drew the foul and hit one free throw.
Abrams wouldn't be shown up following his 12-point, 15 rebound game.
The junior took a lob pass into the lane where he scored off the glass to set up the final play.
The Eels took the ball to mid-court where they called timeout to set up the eventual game-winning shot.
Afterwards, McVay credited his team's win to their defense in the second half.
"We started defending with toughness. Overall I'm pleased for the kids, we did a much better job being tough in the second half," said McVay.
Cook had 11 points for the Eels and Levi Seymour contributed eight followed by Defore with six and nine from Rhodes, all on 3-pointers.
In the JV game, Tyler Bridgewater went for 21 points and Ethan Shaw added 10, but the Eels second half rally fell short, 42-39.
The Eels improve to 10-6 overall and 3-0 in the Tri-River Conference and will play Shakamak beginning with the JV game at noon on Saturday.
At North Central
Clay City (54)
Cook 4-7 3-4 11, Seymour 4-5 0-0 8, Kennedy 7-16 3-6 17, Rhodes 3-10 0-0 9, Defore 2-7 1-2 6, Payne 0-1 0-0 0, Heffner 1-4 1-1 3. Totals: 21-50 8-13 54
North Central (51)
Swaby 4-6 1-2 10, Abrams 3-7 6-6 12, Boyll 5-8 1-2 11, Walker 4-6 1-1 9, Woodsmall 2-9 5-8 9, Enstrom 0-3 0-0 0, Hennecke 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 18-41 14-19 51.
3-point fieldgoals -- CC 4-15 (Defore 1-4, Rhodes 3-6, Kennedy 0-5), NC 1-5 (Swaby 1-3, Enstrom 0-2). Total Rebounds -- CC 27 (Kennedy 12), NC 30 (Abrams 15). Total Fouls -- CC 16, NC 19. Fouled out -- CC (Seymour), NC (Walker). Turnovers -- CC 14, NC 14.