By John Bassetti
Late in the game, Fitch coach Brian Beany chose to leave his chair to make adequate space for Quincy Higgins’ in-bounds play in front of the Falcons’ bench.
A few minutes later, East High tightened the game by closing within 55-50 with 1:22 left.
But several free throws later, Fitch closed out a 60-54 win Friday night.
Jessie Driver’s 24 points and 11 rebounds led the Falcons (6-1) in their first out-of-conference game of the season.
“I told the kids that there would be a few runs in the game, but you just don’t know when they’ll happen,” Beany said of East closing the gap by outscoring his Falcons in the fourth period, 16-9.
“You’ve got to compose yourself, do what you’ve got to do, be in the right spots and weather the run.”
The coach agreed that the Panthers (1-7) crashed the boards and tightened the screws to make the ending close.
“They applied pressure and we had a couple defensive breakdowns and they made us pay by making open shots,” Beany said. “On the offensive end, we got out of our rhythm a little and forced a few shots here and there. But, down the stretch, the kids composed themselves and it was a good win. I knew their record was deceiving and that’s why we had a battle on our hands.”
East’s flurry concerned Driver and the rest of the Falcons.
“They were applying more pressure and were being more aggressive on defense, so we kind of shied away and slowed down on offense,” Driver said. “Eventually, we calmed down a little and got in the flow and decided to win the game.”
One of Fitch’s more memorable moments came when Mike Butcher, another senior, made an off-balance jump shot after a mid-court steal to give his team a 51-36 lead that inspired the Falcons.
“I stole the ball and went toward our basket, then jump-stopped. Coach preached all week about using the head fake, so I tried it, but lost my balance, fell backwards and just threw it up. It went in and the whole crowd got into it.”
Butch finished with 12 points, while Anthony Pangio had a team-high 15 rebounds.
Even though East led in blocks (11) and steals (10) and outscored Fitch in the fourth, the Panthers were called for 22 fouls to Fitch’s 10. At the foul line, Fitch converted 15 of 24 to East’s 1 of 4.
Besides missing injured Marquis Cotton, East coach Dennis Simmons is dealing with an on-court aspect of the game.
“We’re still playing a fourth of a game, a half of a game,” he said. “We have not put four quarters together yet.”
The coach said that his players must adapt to the officiating.
“Because of inexperience, we’re not recognizing how the game’s being called and not making the adjustment,” Simmons said. “When we get a couple fouls, our guys stop being aggressive and stop pushing the ball and we start being real passive.”
He tried stressing that point during a timeout in the first half.
“I know what we got, so we got to get used to it,” Simmons could be overheard saying in the huddle.
After the game, Simmons reiterated that the refs set the tone.
“I tried to explain that to the players, but, because they’re still learning, you’ve got to make adjustments and play the game and not let it deter from what we want to do,” he said. “You’ve got to play smart.”
Anthony Reid’s 15 points led East, while Terrell McClain and Rayshawn Johnson had six rebounds apiece of their team’s 31.