ROCHELLE — Senior guard Austin Brown had been going head-to-head with Rochelle coach Tim Thompson in free-throw shooting contests during a few of the team’s recent practices. Those friendly competitions were put to the test Friday night, when the Hubs needed Brown to step up at the line during the final moments of their Interstate 8 Conference game against Plano.
Rochelle held a 26-point advantage over the Reapers early in the third quarter, but Plano flipped the game on its head after switching to a 1-2-2 defensive press. The Reapers brought the Hubs within only a few points late in the fourth quarter, but Rochelle went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line down the stretch, with Brown sinking six of those shots to help the Hubs survive Plano 73-70. Brown finished with a game-high 21 points for Rochelle (14-11, 5-5 Interstate 8).
‘Coach [Thompson] and I have had some free-throw contests recently,” Brown said. “When I walked up to the free-throw line tonight, I thought about beating coach Thompson. I was able to stay calm under pressure and make some free throws for our team.”
While Plano’s furious fourth-quarter comeback put the Reapers in a position to win Friday’s game, Rochelle was the team to dominate the early portion of the second half. Leading 36-27, the Hubs nearly blew Plano out of the gym, breaking off an 18-1 run that included three 3-pointers from junior guard Garrett Burdin and a triple from Brown. Rochelle capitalized on poor Reaper passes, intercepting balls in the open court and creating easy scoring chances.
“Shooting’s contagious,” Brown said. “When we make one shot, we hear the fans go crazy and we feed off their energy. We know we can create easier shots by getting takeaways, and we were passing up good shots for great shots. We were pressuring the ball, and we felt they were trying to force the ball and make flashy passes.”
The scoring surge put Rochelle ahead 54-28 halfway through the third quarter, prompting the Reapers to begin implementing their 1-2-2 three-quarter press. The Hubs struggled to move the ball against Plano’s press, with back-court and sideline turnovers creating extra offensive possessions for the Reapers, whose superior size started to factor into the game.
Behind 6-foot-8 forward Griffin Cross and 6-foot-6 forward Robbie Taylor, Plano closed the third quarter on a 12-4 run before opening the fourth quarter with 10 unanswered points. With 2:18 remaining in the game, the Reapers were on a 21-7 stretch and only down 65-61.
“We had a lot of miscommunications,” Brown said. “We weren’t flashing in the middle and we were making a lot of bad moves with the ball… We knew we had to want it more. They were a lot bigger than us, and the last time we faced them, they pounded us on the boards.”
Brown’s first pair of free throws in the final minute led to a quick 3-point rebuttal from Plano guard Gabe Rodriguez to make it 69-68 Rochelle with 29 seconds remaining. After Brown hit two more freebies, Cross knifed through the Hub defense for a layup before the Reapers used their final timeout trailing 71-70 with 6.1 seconds to go. Rochelle successfully inbounded the ball to senior Landan Martin, who swished two free throws to finish with 19 points.