KETTERING — Eaton had the pace right where it wanted — for three quarters.
Unfortunately for the Eagles the game of basketball is a four-quarter game.
On Friday, Feb. 23, in the first round of the Division II boys sectional tournament, Thurgood Marshall flexed is muscle over the final eight minutes to hand Eaton a season-ending, 76-57 loss at Trent Arena.
The Eagles finished the season 1-22, dropping its final 21 games of the season.
“It’s been a rough year. We haven’t got the results we want on game nights. Those guys (seniors) never let us quit and they didn’t let us quit tonight,” Eaton coach Alex Prater said of Aaron Tolliver and Grant Sullender.
Eaton, the No. 14 seed, felt good about its chances against the No. 9 Cougars.
“This was a great week of prep. I thought we came in ready to play tonight. I thought we executed well for three quarters. In the fourth quarter we just ran out of gas and turnovers caught up with us,” Prater said. “Give Thurgood credit. They have a lot of great players and great athletes.”
Eaton held the lead after the first quarter 11-9 the game was tied 24-all at halftime.
Eaton trailed by as nine in the third quarter on two occasions, 38-29 and 42-33, but rallied to within three, trailing only 44-41 after James Howard connected on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Eaton was able to keep the game close by slowing the tempo and not having live-ball turnovers.
In the fourth, that all changed.
Eaton committed turnovers on its first three possessions and the Cougars made five of their first six shots attempts to build a 58-46 lead with 5:22 remaining and still trailed by 11 at 60-49 with 4:13 to play.
The Eagles never got any closer.
Eaton was led by Sullender’s 14 points. Isaac Manning had 13. Hunter Frost added nine and Owen Baumann and Howard added eight and seven respectively.
Eaton committed 25 turnovers on the night.
“Our goal is to be under 10 every game. Now, a game like this, knowing they were going to pressure, you really want to keep it under 15,” Prater said. “If you look at the margin of the game, we were basically 10 turnovers over that. I think just about every one of those were live ball turnovers. When we’ve got live ball turnovers there’s no good defense for that. Coming in we knew ball security was going to be a big deal. We thought the other thing was tempo. We kept the tempo where we needed it to be in the first half. Then, because of some of those turnovers in the fourth quarter, it got away from us.”
Prater, in his first season, is looking forward to a full off-season with the team, but also realizes the team has room for improvement.
“We’ve got a long way to go skill wise, strength conditioning wise, just getting stronger and taking our basketball game to the next level. But, we couldn’t ask for better kids. They’re great kids and they work hard every day. They’ve very selfless and care about each other,” he said. “When people look at our results, it doesn’t look like we had a lot of success, it there was a lot of success. Simply, because we had a lot of growth.”
Prater said Sullender and Tolliver will be missed.
“I’m really proud of our seniors I thought they laid their hearts out there for us,” Prater said. “We’re going to miss those guys.“
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH