"We missed a few plays and time ran out on us," E.A. head coach John Moon said postgame. "Anyone who reads about this in the newspaper sees a nine-point win, but it really wasn't a nine-point win."
Rather, it was a close game throughout and had a few plays and a few calls gone the other way in the fourth quarter, the Eagles could have been the team hoisting the trophy.
The Grant Center was the place to be Friday night in Danville. An hour before tipoff, the ticket line stretched far into the parking lot as hundreds of locals were eager to watch their hometown G.W. team battle with an E.A. squad that featured a future University of North Carolina star.
Despite being a heavy underdog for the third straight game, against a team as athletic as any they'd see all year and before the biggest crowd they would play before all season, E.A. showed poise early. There were six lead changes before G.W. took control early in the second quarter and would lead by as many as seven points in the quarter before the margin was whittled down to 34-31 at halftime.
Curry, who had 14 points in the first half, hit a three on the first possession out of the break to tie the game, but the Eagles played from behind, though never trailing by more than four in the quarter, and were down 51-47 going into the fourth.
Again, Curry opened the quarter with a three pointer and a minute later scored on a backdoor hoop to give E.A. its first lead, 54-53, since the early minutes of the second quarter. After both teams exchanged baskets, G.W. put together a near-fatal blow to the Eagles, connecting on back-to-back three-point plays followed by a three-pointer. The 9-0 run put E.A. down 64-56 with 3:47 to play.
But the Curry and the Eagles fought back. An E.A. basket followed by two scores from Curry, one from three and the other a tough jumper in the lane, narrowed the G.W. lead to 65-62. The Eagles would then fail on two straight easy attempts to further close the gap, as two consecutive Curry passes to open teammates under the basket would go for naught.
"We came down and ran one out of bounds play," Moon said, "JamesOn roles to the corner and passes and we miss the layup. Then we came down and missed one again. Then we have to foul them, they make the free throws …"
… and it was over. Curry fouled out with 38 seconds left and G.W. scored the game's last six points from the foul line to capture their ninth straight Holiday Shootout title.
"We should have won the game – but I can't say what I want to say" Curry stated postgame, not wanting to use some tough calls by the officials as an excuse for the loss. "We showed a whole lot of heart and showed we don't give up."
Curry finished the game with 28 points and seven assists.
"They came after JamesOn and he handled it well," Moon said. "Some shots didn't go down for him, but he didn't miss any of them badly. I thought he played well and composed … he was up for the game, it was a big game for him in front of this crowd."
Moon used a few set plays to try to give Curry some solid looks at the basket against an opponent that far exceeded the Eagles in speed and athleticism.
"He was having trouble getting to the basket -- they pushed us out further than we wanted to be," Moon said. "We ran what we call 'Mustang' which is a three-point play and he got some good looks and made a couple of them. We ran 'Orange' which is a backdoor cut. In the second half we set up like he's going to go back door, but he doesn't run back door and instead fakes and steps back and knocks down a three – and he did that."
Besides two backdoor layups, a driving layup and two jumpers, Curry's points came on three-pointers. He shot 6-for-12 from beyond the arc and 11-for-21 overall, with no trips to the foul line.
Despite losing in the final, Curry was named Tournament MVP. He averaged 35.7 points over the three games.
"How many times does the losing team have two players on the all-tournament team and have the MVP?" Moon said. Curry's teammate Bryan Burney was the other Eagle to be named to the team.
The Eagles will head back down Route 86 for the third time in three days and take a few days off before returning to practice. They entered the Holiday Shootout at 1-6, having lost their last six, but their play in Danville should help turn the season around. And it wasn't that they were overachieving against superior opponents this week, rather they were gaining confidence and realizing their potential.
"From my standpoint, the only things more we could have gotten from this tournament was if we had won it," Moon said, "because we got a tremendous amount out of it, and we showed some people we have a class basketball organization. We'll carry this into the rest of the season believing in ourselves."
Curry said, "I want to win, but I don't get frustrated or down on myself. My confidence stays up. Our team gained a lot of confidence and this should help us in conference play."