Elverado shocks Meridian
Falcons rally for fourth quarter triumph, forge three-way SEC tie

- It was December 18, 2009. It was a road game for the Mounds Meridian Bobcats as they traveled to take on, then, conference rival Goreville.

The Bobcats left the gym that night after losing to the Blackcats, 63-55.

It was the last time that Mounds Meridian had lost a regular season South Egyptian Conference boy's varsity basketball contest.

The win streak, according to the archives, had reached 66-games.

Most of the wins that Meridian captured in the past eight years were of lopsided variety as this program has dominated this league.

That streak is over, thanks to a big-time performance by the Elverado Falcons on Friday night.

Coach Jacob Emling has a rejuvenated program in Jackson County and his club made all the right moves at home to pick up the shocking triumph.

Behind 27-points from junior 6-foot-2 swingman Zee Johnson and 23-markers from 5-foot-8 sophomore guard Aquantez Penn, the Falcons upset the Bobcats, 63-58.

Despite falling behind early on and getting out-rebounded by double-digits, the Falcons hung around like one of those annoying little brothers, tagging along with his older sibling.

Elverado improved to 18-8 overall, which has been a remarkable turnaround of fortunes for this program that had not produced a winning season in recent memory.

The Falcons pulled ahead and put the outcome to rest with a big fourth quarter run in which they turned the Bobcats over four times in route to a 27-15 scoring difference to pick up the win.

The importance of the win is tantamount as the Falcons are now in a three-way tie with Meridian and Cobden at 6-1 in the SEC.

“They (Meridian) are the best team we have played by far but this is the best game we have played by far, too,” said Coach Emling. “We prepared the whole week for this game. If you would have told me that we would hold Meridian to just 58-points I would have laughed in your face. Our defensive effort was where it was tonight.”

Johnson and Penn are both transfer students into this school but it was clear this season that the community and school have embraced these two young men.

On this night, as they have for most of this season, they didn't disappoint.

The duo came up big in the fourth quarter when they needed the big run for the win.

Penn netted 13 of his points in the fourth while Johnson added nine in the same session.

According to Coach Emling, the Falcons have had trouble closing out games from the foul line.

That wasn't the case on Friday night as both Penn and Johnson toed the line and combined to make 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth.

They each finished identical 6-of-7 from the line as Elverado ended up 12-of-16 from the stripe as a team.

For Meridian, now 10—15 on the season, a won-loss record that is deceiving to the naked eye.

With a beefed up non-conference schedule the Bobcats are much better than their mark appears.

The Bobcats were led by 6-foot-5 senior Byron Nesby with 15-points and five rebounds.

Two other teammates, 6-foot-3 junior Demareon Nicholson and 6-foot-6 junior Darnell Lowe scored 12 and 10 respectively.

Trailing 43-36 heading into the fourth quarter, the Falcons turned up the intensity of their zone, a defense that the Bobcats struggled with on this night.

Elverado didn't get things rolling until late in the game.

Meridian and head coach Erik Griffin were still in charge with 5:38 left.

Lowe drove to the basket for a lay in that turned into a conventional three-point play and a 51-41 Meridian advantage.

But at this point of the proceedings, things got interesting as the Falcons turned in a game-winning stretch of basketball.

Sage Sarensen, a 5-foot-11 senior, and 6-foot classmate Joey Dunham, finished the game with six and five-points.

Both came up with big plays in the final push for victory.

Dunham hit a long-range shot from the top of the circle to get the run going.

Following a three-point play by Johnson on a drive down the lane and a 3-pointer from Penn the Falcons were creeping closer.

Then Sarensen, a veteran of this program, made a key steal off of an errant Meridian inbounds play and raced to the other end of the floor for a lay in to cut the Bobcats lead to just 53-52 with 3:16 to go.

Moments later, after another Meridian miscue, Johnson gave the Falcons the lead for the first time since the second quarter as he scored again on a drive past Bobcat defenders for a 54-53 lead.

Meridian managed to tie the game three times in the next minute with a free throw by junior Ja'Quan Jones and a basket by Nicholson after Johnson converted two from the foul line, and finally two more free throws by Lowe.

But low and behold, those would be the final points of the game for the Bobcats as Elverado finished the upset in style.

Following a free throw by Penn gave the lead back to the Falcons, Meridian committed one of its 15-turnovers of the game with :47.9 left.

The Bobcats sent Penn back to the line with :33.6 left and the sophomore guard calmly hit both charities for a three-point lead.

The Bobcats were down 61-58 and were needing a 3-pointer for the tie.

However as they were working the ball around the perimeter, the got careless in their desperation with a cross court pass that was intercepted by Penn.

He quickly out raced everyone to the other end of the floor for a game-clinching lay up with :08 left.

The Bobcats managed a long 3-point attempt that was no good as the horn sounded on the stunning upset.

Meridian never gained complete control of the game, in spite of having two different double-figure leads, one in each half.

Most teams in this league in the past, including Elverado, would have just faded into the night after falling behind in the early going to the Bobcats.

Coach Griffin's club jumped out to an 8-0 lead and a second quarter run made it 22-11 with 6:18 left.

Everything was going as scripted and the Bobcats appeared ready to run away from Elverado as they had done to most of the last 66-SEC opponents.

But Coach Emiling's club showed just before halftime that this wasn't going to be the case on this night on their own floor.

A 12-0 run by the hosts gave Elverado and brief 23-22 lead.

Johnson scored seven of the points with a three-point play and he closed the run with a fast break two-handed dunk.

Sarensen also cashed in on a fast break on a steal, one of Meridian's four second quarter turnovers.

The Bobcats scored the last two buckets of the half, getting a 3-pointer from sophomore Eddie Robertson and a drive in the lane by senior Jabare Patrick as the led 27-23 at intermission.

Elverado finished 23-of-53 overall from the floor, 5-of-13 from the 3-point arc in the victory.

More importantly, they didn't let Meridian's pressure or the pressure of the moment bother them on this night.

The Falcons committed just eight turnovers with none of them coming in the final eight minutes.

Meridian shot the ball well enough to win, when they weren't committing other mistakes.

The Bobcats ended up 24-of-51 overall, 4-of-13 from long range but they only managed 6-of-12 from the foul line, another of the stats that proved costly for the visitors.

The out-boarded the Falcons 33-20 with 12 of the rebounds on the offensive end.

But the turnovers proved too costly for Meridian.

Elverado, Meridian and Cobden are all at 6-1 in the league play with each team having a final conference game next Friday to decided the outcome.

Cobden hasn't won or shared the SEC title since the 1963-64 season when the Appleknockers made it all the way to state title game.

Elverado hasn't won a league title in boy's basketball since sharing the Black Diamond Conference title, also in the 1963-64 season.

“We got out-rebounded early and we adjusted. If we don't fix that there is no way we stay with them,” said Coach Emling. “We have had more balanced scoring but Penn and Johnson stepped up for us, we made our free throws down the stretch. In some of our other games we didn't close out the games because we missed free throws but tonight we made them.”

Mounds Meridian
Mounds Meridian (58) – Jones 1 1 1-2 6, Lowe 3 0 4-7 10, Nicholson 6 0 0-0 12, Vasser 0 0 0-0 0, Patrick 1 1 0-0 5, Nesby 7 0 1-3 15, Robertson 1 2 0-0 8, Nichols 1 0 0-0 2.
2FG-20, 3FG-4, FT-6-12, PF-19.

Elverado (58) – Penn 4 3 6-7 23, Johnson 9 1 6-7 27, Dunham 1 1 0-2 5, Sarensen 3 0 0-0 6, Caraker 1 0 0-0 2, White 1 0 0-0 2.
2FG-18, 3FG-5, FT-12-16, PF-16.

Fouled Out – Nesby - Mounds Meridian.
Technical Fouls – None.