CARLISLE — Having absorbed Harrisburg’s first-half body blow, and with an animated crowd and momentum on its side, Carlisle seemingly had things in place Tuesday to finally get over the hump against a road-weary Cougar club.
Tony James and his Harrisburg teammates still had a little life in their legs, though.
The senior guard made two decisive plays in the game’s final 40 seconds — a drive and score to give Harrisburg a lead, and then a steal and an assist to extend it — and helped the Cougars nab a 69-63 victory over Carlisle in a Mid-Penn Commonwealth boys basketball game at Carlisle’s Gene Evans Gymnasium.
Carlisle had roared back from a 16-point first-half deficit and had taken the lead on Gavyn Barnes’ bucket with just under a minute remaining, but James’s effort denied the Herd a victory that would have greatly boosted their District 3 playoff standing.
“We called on some guys to just do their part,” Harrisburg coach Kirk Smallwood said. “Our main-line guys were tough at the end. Tony James was tough at the end. We’re a team. We played 10-11 guys, and everybody knows what to do when they go out there.”
The Thundering Herd’s final push began with a little more than five minutes remaining. Harrisburg held a 59-50 advantage, but a Barnes bucket ignited an 11-0 Carlisle run that gave the Herd their first lead of the night.
With Carlisle trailing 59-58, a personal foul and technical were whistled on Harrisburg, and Joe Mastrangelo and Howie Rankine combined to go 3-for-4 from the stripe to give the Herd a 61-59 advantage with 1:23 to go.
James and Barnes then went back and forth, with a James three-point play putting Harrisburg back in front. Barnes countered with his drive to put Carlisle up 63-62 and then James made his game-changing plays over the next two possessions. After his basket, he made a steal in the Carlisle front court and hit Ali Anthony, who converted the layup for the 66-63 lead with a little more than 20 seconds to go. Carlisle would not score again.
“We have to play with poise,” Carlisle coach Andre Anderson said. “It all falls back to toughness. Securing rebounds, not turning the ball over, getting stops on the defensive end. Those three things we preach all the time, especially in crunch time.”
Harrisburg had opened the game with abandon, sharing the ball and generating open looks on nearly every offensive possession. The Cougars registered assists on 13 of their 17 first-half field goals, and shot 17-for-31 from the field in the first half. It pushed them to a 36-20 lead with 3:38 to go before half.
Anderson then made a momentum-changing move, bringing Clay Burkett, Hunter Hargraves and Tristyn Sulich in from the bench. The trio combined for eight points and four rebounds in the final stretch, giving Carlisle instant life and closing the halftime gap to 39-32. It would be a scrap from then on.
“I wanted to see guys playing hard,” Anderson said. “That’s what it started with, those three guys. They went out confident, number one. I know they’re confident. Those guys are like bulldogs on the end of the bench ready to be unleashed... They went in there and provided us the spark we needed.”
Harrisburg’s Na’Reece Glenn led the Cougars with 17 points, while James added 13. Barnes led all scorers with 18, with Rankine and Ki Barnes both adding 11.