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Colts complete 'comeback of the year'

Feb. 19—HENDERSON — "That's the comeback of the year," said point guard Will Alston after the 55-53 miracle home victory over the New Garden Friends Bears.

The story wrote itself in the Saturday afternoon rematch between New Garden and Crossroads Christian in the second round of the 1A State Playoffs.

After coming out with lackluster energy and performance, the Colts looked dead in the water before completing the double-digit comeback in the second half.

"That was just love and passion, we didn't give up," said senior Leon LeCompte.

"They came out and punked us in our home gym," said Ben Gladieux. "I had to make sure everyone brought the dog in the second half because if they didn't, this would have been my last high school game."

With three minutes left in the second quarter, senior Jeffrey Clark II poked the ball free from Gladieux and the Bears entered halftime with all the momentum and a 12-point lead. Ominously, a fan in the visitor's section foreshadowed a potential "tale of two halves."

However, it was the same story to start the second half. After a quick bucket from the Bears to go up 14, Crossroads head coach Scottie Richardson called a timeout to prevent things from spiraling out of control. If it was not desperation time yet, the Colts were quickly approaching it.

"Next shot," Rebecca Phillips yelled from the sidelines as the big man, Gladieux, missed his first free throw. The mother of varsity players Elyssa and Ely Phillips, Rebecca Phillips was cheering on her son and his team — while simultaneously texting live updates to her husband — who was keeping her in the loop on the girl's playoff game against Ridgecroft.

"It was intense not knowing the girl's game, and watching this it wasn't going the direction I thought it would. I'm glad it all turned around for both sides," said Rebecca. "I am so proud of [Ely]. He had some pivotal threes he needed to make, Luckily, he got fouled on them."

Later in the third quarter, Phillips was fouled on a three-point attempt and went to the line for a triplet of free throws for the second time that afternoon. New Garden head coach Dwon Clifton pleaded his case to the referees that Phillips was flopping.

"We had to keep doing what was working," said Clifton. "We needed to adjust to the way the game was being called. You have to remember what it is that you've done that put yourself in that position, and we stopped doing that. We basically let them catch up from the foul line."

On the next play, the Bears threw an errant pass for a backcourt violation, and Phillips had words for junior Adrian Wilkerson on the ensuing inbound. That very possession ignited from the interaction with his opponent, Phillips watched as his three-ball from the corner laced all nylon — 34-28.

With their season on the line, the Colts entered the final period down 10 after another three-pointer for New Garden's Kingston Clifton. A Broderick Jenkins and-one cut the lead to seven points with seven minutes remaining.

Alston was flying around defensively, pestering anyone who had the ball in their hands. He finished with two steals and two deflections, with most of his defensive dirty work coming in the final period.

Down 41-36 after Phillips airballed a three-pointer, the Colts desperately needed the ball back. On the following possession, Phillips airballed again, but a late whistle was blown on the follow through. Clifton could not believe the call. At the line, Phillips calmly knocked down two of his three free throws to make it 41-38.

Down two with barely two minutes to play, Crossroads took the lead with a miraculous Phillips corner three. After trailing since the opening tip, the Colts called timeout with a one-point lead and 2:11 on the clock.

Before the inbound, New Garden's 6-foot-10 senior, Vuk Veljic, crossed his chest, making right with his higher power. Shortly after the inbound, Crossroads came up with a steal and could hold the ball and burn out the clock as long as they were dribbling.

Unfortunately for the Colts, Jenkins held the ball for a few too many jab steps and was called for the delay of game turnover with barely a minute left. But an ensuing over-the-back call on Clark sent the Colts, who were in the bonus, to the line to extend the lead to four — 52-48.

On the next possession, with 45 seconds left and up two scores, Alston secured a steal and went on a breakaway with Clark in close pursuit. Instead of pulling the ball out to drain more time off the clock in a tight playoff game, Alston attempted a layup — and missed — giving the ball back to the Bears.

"I should have dribbled it out, but I was like 'Nah, I'm going for it,' " said Alston. "[After I missed] I was like 'Scottie's about to be pissed.' "

Sure enough, when Alston glanced over at the bench after his last-minute layup attempt careened off the back iron, assistant coach Conner Bryant was livid.

"He knows better than that," said Bryant after the game.

But Alston's costly blunder was matched by a turnover on Clifton, giving the ball back to the Colts with a four-point lead and 22 seconds left. A New Garden three-pointer made the game interesting at the end, but the two ice-cold free throws from Gladieux sealed the deal on the improbable comeback.

"I hate to see my seniors go out like this. But this is the beauty of sports," said Coach Clifton.

"This is the love and the hate, the give and take of sports and the way it teaches young men life," said Clifton. "I told them in the locker room 'We lost a game tonight, but if you do that in the real world and get complacent at work, you may lose your job. Out here you just lost a game.' I'm all about teaching life through the game, and nothing has changed."

After the epic comeback, the Colts are two wins away from a state championship. They travel to Charlotte on Tuesday to take on United Faith Christian Academy in the semi-finals.

STATSEly Phillips (Fr.) — 17 PTS (3-4 3FG), 6-9 FT

Ben Gladieux (Sr.) — 15 PTS, 1 BLK, 4 TO

Broderick Jenkins (Sr.) — 14 PTS, 6 REB, 2 STL

Will Alston (Sr.) — 3 PTS, 2 STL, 2 DFL