Basketball coaches, from time to time, say that a game can be won or lost on the free-throw line. Grays Harbor College’s women can attest to that on Saturday night.
While Green River piled up fouls in the second half, the Chokers took to the free-throw line to erase two Gator rallies and win their first NWAACC Western Division contest, 73-65, at Sam Benn Gym.
For the men, the Gators hit more than their share of free throws against the Chokers and frustrated the hosts as well in a 96-89 decision.
Chokers 73, Gators 65
This game was, in a word, choppy. Neither team were able to get into any rhythm as the foul calls broke up nearly every second-half possession in this coed doubleheader opening game.
Green River held a 32-27 halftime lead and a 44-36 lead with 13:46 left in the contest when it began to rack up the fouls inside its pressure man-to-man defense. Grays Harbor adjusted and kept driving to the basket for either layups or free-throw attempts.
The Chokers erased the eight-point deficit to 44-44 in three minutes, but the Gators responded with a quick 9-3 run for a 53-47 lead with 7:11 left. By this time, the Gators were past the 10-foul limit and the Chokers were shooting double bonus free throws.
“It certainly was a bit of a worry at the line when we were 5 of 14 in the first half,” GHC head coach Christine Nelson said. “We had to knock them down. We went stronger to the basket in the second half. I was proud of them. We had to persevere and keep fighting and fighting and fighting. I don’t think the girls wanted to lose.”
Green River held a 57-50 lead with 6:10 left when GHC made its final run. Two drives to the basket netted five points — two field goals and a free throw — from Marlee Chovich and two technical foul free throws by Emily Cox tied the game at 57-all with 4:21 left.
Cox’s free throws came in the midst of a 2-minute patch of fouls for the Gators, who lost four players to fouls. Overall, Green River had five players foul out and it finished with just four on the floor in the final seconds. The Gators outpaced the Chokers in fouls, 38-15, including two technical fouls.
The nine-point spurt erupted into a 23-8 game-ending run for the Chokers, who hit 25-of-34 free throws in the second half. GHC had just 10 field goals in a 46-point second half to finish off Green River.
Cox led all scorers with 22 points, including 12-of-18 shooting from the free-throw line., for GHC. Paula Robles added 15 points, Chovich ended with 14 points and Bianca Russell got a double-double — 10 points and 11 rebounds — by hitting 10 of 13 from the line, 7-for-7 in the second half.
“Bianca struggled from the field, but got a double-double at the free-throw line,” Nelson added. “I thought everyone contributed when we needed it. I thought (Green River) got rattled and we just played. The girls didn’t let them nor the officials to get into their heads. It was a physical game, but Green River didn’t adjust and we just kept playing.”
Gina Mitchell, one of the five players to foul out for Green River, led her team with 18 points.
Gators 96, Chokers 89
Except for the first 3 1/2 minutes, Green River held the lead throughout this Western Division matchup and survived a late rally from Grays Harbor College.
Both teams shot 50 percent or better from the field — 31 of 58 (.534) for the Gators and 35 of 70 (.500) for the Chokers — to set up a wild finish.
The Gators led by as many as 11 in the second half. The Chokers were within two or three possessions of the visitors throughout the half, leading GHC head coach Jordan Altman to implore to his players for “one stop” on defense.
“There’s a real lack of toughness on this team,” GHC head coach Jordan Altman said. “Even if you take the defense away, we missed a bunch of shots by trying to be fancy, not using the backboard for layups. There’s no toughness whatsoever. It is ugly. We shot 50 percent from the field and lost because of toughness.”
GHC climbed back from that 11-point deficit — 71-60 with 9:03 left — slowly, getting to within a point on a Bryan McGriff 3-point basket with 56.4 seconds remaining at 90-89. Green River used the free-throw line to hold off the hosts, hitting 10-for-12 in the final 3 1/2 minutes.
After McGriff’s trey, the Gators quickly got back down court and got a foul from Cameron Ladson to go to the line. Ladson fouled out on the play and Isaac Winston hit both free throws for a 92-89 lead with 52.3 seconds remaining.
The Chokers called timeout, but couldn’t convert. Two more free throws and a Winston layup off a GHC turnovers allowed Green River to survive with the win.
“Tonight McGriff and Ladson both stepped up and Bryan brought it,” Altman said. “No one else brought it. We told the guys that on paper, this was a very straightforward matchup and it would come down to who wanted to win more. It is quite obvious that Green River wanted it more.”
Winston led all scorers with 31 points and 10 rebounds for Green River. McGriff led GHC with 29 points, with Ladson added 22 and Bryan Irion 12.
On Wednesday, both GHC teams will stay at Sam Benn Gym to greet Pierce College.
Green River College (65) — Speelmon, Taya 9, Mitchell 18, Olsen 8, Stowers, Wason 5, Woods 14, Dubois 10, Manning 1. FG — 25-57 (.439). FT — 8-13.
Grays Harbor College (73) — Maneman 3, Chovich 14, Hagain 2, Cox 22, Robles 15, Koe, Fifield 7, Stewart, Russell 10, Dotson. FG — 20-66 (.303). FT — 30-48.
Halftime: Green River 32, Grays Harbor 27.
Green River College (96) — Holiday 2, Miles 26, Luckett 7, Mitchell 9, Hale, Winston 31, Hardwick, Ravet 3, DeMecilio, Coombes 2, Rife 16. FG — 31-58 (.534). FT — 32-45.
Grays Harbor College (89) — Porter 6, Harrison 2, Larkins, Kolokihausfisi, Ladson 22, Harrod 5, Irion 12, Straghter 7, McGriff 29, Dutton 6. FG — 35-70 (.500). FT — 14-18.
Halftime: Green River 46, Grays Harbor 41.