Curry, E.A. go down in Greenville

GREENVILLE, N.C. – As the final buzzer sounded and Eastern Alamance's season came to an end, JamesOn Curry fell to the floor, his head buried.

The hobbled junior star and his Eagles squad came up short Tuesday night, falling 73-71 to the West Columbus Vikings in the Eastern Regional Semifinals.

The Vikings were well schooled on their opponents, but still couldn't stop Curry in the first half.

"We got a pretty good scouting report last night and decided to double out, but that didn't work," said head coach Michael Powell.

Curry had little trouble with the defense, shedding defenders and firing on all cylinders early. He opened the game with a three-pointer and on the next possession came down to the same spot and hit another three. He scored the team's first ten points, as the Eagles broke out to a 19-10 advantage at the 2:36 mark.

The Vikings kept it close, tying the score at 24-24 early in the second quarter before Curry surged the Eagles ahead again with a three-point play, a runner in the lane, two fast break assists and a lefty layup. The 14-3 Eagles run put them ahead by nine again and Curry drained a three in the final seconds of the half for a 42-35 halftime lead.

Curry's first-half stat line read 24 points (9-14 FG, 3-4 3pt, 3-3 ft), five rebounds and four assists. Unfortunately for him and the Eagles, his final stat line wasn't much different.

The night before, the Eagles had opened the second half with an 18-0 run that in effect won the game – but Tuesday night they came out of the locker room flat.

The Eagles turned the ball over on their first four possessions and the Vikings capitalized by tying the game at 42-42. After the teams exchanged six-point runs, and with the scored tied 48-48 at the 3:46 mark, Curry walked off the court limping – favoring the right ankle that he had broken this past summer.

"I heard it pop and I couldn't stop shaking," he said. "Big players make big plays in big games and now I couldn't."

The trainer wrapped his foot and he returned a couple of minutes later, but struggled to make it up and down the court and even almost fell over when he put weight on it while trying to make a pass.

"In a game like this there's such a small margin of error," Eagles head coach John Moon said.

And losing one of the state's all-time top scorers would qualify as such an error and then some.

The Eagles still led 55-53 at the end of the third quarter thanks to nine-straight points from senior Jonathan Smith, but when the fourth quarter began, Curry was sitting on the bench getting a new ankle wrap and the Eagles were clearly in trouble.

"When you take a great player out of the lineup – one of the best players in the country – the other kids from West Columbus stepped up their defensive intensity and got aggressive more offensively taking the ball to the basket," Moon said.

The Vikings forced a number of turnovers and at the same time had their way in the paint on the offensive end, scoring from point-blank range and sticking back offensive boards when they missed.

Trailing 62-57, Curry returned to the lineup and managed to draw a foul while taking a jumper and hit both free throws.

Despite Curry's inability to really help on either end of the floor, the Eagles continued to fight.

"The great thing was that our kids didn't quit," Moon said. "When the engine went out, the rest of the car was still moving pretty well."

Eagles senior Bryan Burney answered the call, responding to each Vikings basket with a hoop of his own. He hit four-straight baskets for the Eagles to close to within one at 70-69 on a driving layup with 1:14 left.

The Vikings ran clock before Curry was forced to commit a foul with 29 seconds remaining, and Vikings guard Aaron Yates sank both free throws for a three-point lead.

Despite the injury, the Eagles' prolific scorer was going to take the big shot. Curry worked around a screen on the top left of the key and hit a jumper falling forward with 17 seconds on the lock.

But the refs conferred and ruled that Curry's foot was on the line.

"It was a three – and [the referee] wasn't in position to call that," Curry said.

With the score now corrected to 72-71, the Eagles fouled and put Vikings senior Stefan Geathers (15 points, six assists) to the line. And Geathers missed both attempts.

Curry took the pass and raced up court, still hobbling as he worked around two defenders and drove down the right sideline as the clock ran down. He made his way down the right baseline and as he neared the hoop, took a hip check from a defender and eyed his open teammates, the whistle blew – he had stepped out of bounds.

Geathers was fouled and connected on one of his two free throws with 5 seconds left. The Eagles worked the ball to Burney, whose three-point attempt at the buzzer came up short.

A disappointed Curry crumbled to the hardwood floor, reflecting on just how close his team had come despite the evening's large obstacles.

"All the what ifs are still going through my head," he said. "But my teammates, they showed a lot of heart. They showed why we were here in the first place."

The Eagles concluded their record-long season with a 17-14 record.

This is a very special team – the first team in the history of Eastern to play 31 games," Moon said. "If we were a stock market we'd be some wealthy dudes. We started out the season 1-4, but grew up together and got on a roll late in the season. You need to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season."

The final box score for Curry read 28 points (10-for-16 from the floor, 3-of-5 from three, 5-of-5 from the line), eight assists, six rebounds, one block and seven turnovers.

The Mebane native, who already owned the state's freshman and sophomore scoring records, finished his junior campaign with 972 points – also a state record. He'll enter his senior year 203 points short of the state's career scoring mark.

"This should push us to work hard in the offseason at the gym – it's there for a reason, it isn't there for show," he said.

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