Seahorses drop rival Rice to stay perfect

Seahorses drop rival Rice to stay perfect


Seahorses drop rival Rice to stay perfect



Stepping up to the free throw line with 11.8 seconds to play, Burlington High School freshman Kujtim Hashani had a chance to leave his mark on his debut in the Seahorses’ storied boys basketball rivalry with Rice Memorial.

So he tried to envision himself somewhere else — across town, in the friendly confines of Leddy Park.

“I was just picturing myself at, like, the park when I was at the free throw line,” Hashani said. “But I was never in a position as important as this.”

With Saturday’s showdown deadlocked late in regulation for the second time, Hashani calmly drained the first of his two foul shots. And when Matt Maynard’s last-second attempt bounced in and out at the other end, Hashani’s only point of the game was enough to give the Seahorses a tense 51-50 victory over the Green Knights.

Both teams entered the contest unbeaten, but it was Burlington (6-0) that left with its first win against Rice (4-1) in eight tries dating back to 2010.

Last year, the eventual state-champion Green Knights swept the season series 64-28 and 64-37.

“It’s been pretty one-sided the last few years. A couple games we kept it tight until the half and then they extend on us, but this was a nail-biter reminiscent of the old days,” BHS coach Matt Johnson said.

Rice junior forward James Wells had 16 points to lead all scorers and sophomore Kendrick Gray added 13, including a trio of high-flying dunks, but the Seahorses countered with balance.

Christian Holway, Shaquane Cooperwood and Josh Hale each finished with 11 points and Bryan Vachereau chipped in with 10 for Burlington, which rallied from a 25-21 halftime deficit to take a 38-37 lead into the final period after Cooperwood knocked down a 17-foot step-back jumper with a second left in the third quarter.

“I thought they took us out of what we were trying to do. I thought they made a lot of really tough shots, too,” said Rice coach Paul Pecor, whose team was held to a season-low output.

“One of our scouting reports was to make Christian do things — and he did well — and to make Shaq do things — and he did well,” Pecor said. “Our big keys were Asko (Mostarlic), Hale and Vachereau and the other two kids really hurt us.”

The Seahorses built momentum in the last four minutes of the third quarter, with Vachereau, Holway and Cooperwood combining in a 10-4 run.

“We were trying to keep them away from the basket, trying to prevent easy buckets because they’re so long and move so well defensively, we were trying to prevent those easy breakouts,” Johnson said.

Before fouling out, Hale connected on back-to-back jumpers and a 3-pointer from the left wing that gave the Seahorses a 48-41 lead with 3:52 left to go.

After Ben Shungu (12 points) drilled a pull-up trey with 2:23 left, Tommy Fitzgerald knotted the game 48-48 with a pair of free throws at the 2-minute mark. Holway counteredwith a runner in the lane, but Rice answered again with Gray hitting two foul shots with 39.7 seconds left.

After Hashani did his part at the line for Burlington, Rice raced up the floor with the rebound of the misfired second attempt. Shungu slashed into the lane to find Maynard near the left block but the senior forward’s bid, which looked poised to drop, slipped off the cylinder and away from the lane as time expired.

For calendar preparation: The rematch is slated for Feb. 18 at Burlington’s Buck Hard Gym.

“It’s just frustrating. We’re all frustrated right now,” Pecor said after the loss. “Honestly, I thought (Burlington) wanted it more, they executed better and they just played harder than what we did.”


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