But the lasting image — unfortunately, and perhaps unfairly — from the game will be of the Eagles clanging consecutive free throws off the back iron when one or two makes could have gone a long way toward sealing the game.
Instead, after Excel’s third miss from the free throw line, Cody McCormack corralled the misfire and got the ball to the jet-quick Chandler Curtis who raced down the court in no time to score the go-ahead layup with 8.8 seconds remaining.
When the Eagles turned the ball over with 1 second left on their ensuing possession, the Warriors were able to run out the clock and secure a 44-43 victory.
Both teams had a rough go of it in the first quarter, combining for 11 turnovers — which was more than their combined total of made field goals. Gordon Central scored the final 8 points of the quarter to tie the game at 11-all, negating Excel’s 7-0 run and its 9-2 advantage at the start of the ballgame.
The Warriors created some distance for themselves in the second when they answered a 3-pointer from the Eagles’ Myles Lawson — which tied the game at 17 — by converting three field goals in a row.
Excel kept it a two-possession game with free throws from Lane Blackwell and two buckets from Mason Butt, whose final score trimmed the Eagles’ deficit to 29-23 at halftime.
Though neither team lit up the scoreboard throughout the game, Excel managed to put together its best spurt of the game midway through the third quarter. D.J. Garnigan and Butt scored off steals from Zach daCamara, Casey Brown’s 3 was sandwiched in between those field goals and Lawson’s offensive putback gave the Eagles a 34-33 lead to complete a 9-0 run.
The two teams entered the fourth tied at 36.
Curtis penetrated and dished to Alan Young to break the tie, but Excel responded with a free throw and layup from daCamara and a baseline jumper from Brown to take a 41-38 edge.
After Curtis notched a couple more points out of a Gordon Central timeout, daCamara put the Eagles back ahead by three. The Warriors then turned the ball over when Curtis stepped on the baseline, but Excel returned the favor as it coughed up the ball, leading to a fastbreak layup from Bryan Brookshire.
Each team then went through a lull in the game as the score remained at 43-42 in favor of the Eagles.
Coming out of a timeout with 1:07 to play, Excel ran close to 30 seconds off the clock before finally getting the look it wanted. Butt caught the ball in the middle of the paint and was fouled going up for a shot with 39.8 seconds showing.
The 6-foot-4 senior missed long on his first free throw attempt and had to wait a minute for his second foul shot following a timeout by the Warriors to ice the shooter. Butt shot long on his second free throw as well, and Gordon Central had a chance to take the lead.
The Eagles defense, however, came up with a stop and Garnigan secured the rebound and was sent to the free throw line after a Gordon Central foul.
With the Warriors not yet in the bonus, Garnigan had a one-and-one opportunity, which he missed in just about the same spot as Butt. The miss spurred a Gordon Central fastbreak.
Excel had one last opportunity but concluded the game with another turnover in a game full of them — both teams combined for close to 50.
Scorers for the Eagles were Butt, 10; Garnigan, 8; Brown, 8; daCamara, 5; Lawson, 5; Korey Tucker, 3; Blackwell, 2; and Tucker West, 2.
Curtis led the Warriors with 14 points and was joined in the scoring column by Young, 10; McCormack, 8; Sam Welty, 6; Tyshaun Clemmons, 2; Brookshire, 2; and LaRons Winston, 2.
Excel (6-4) had its three-game winning streak snapped — including last Friday’s 63-50 road victory at Gordon Central — with the loss. The Eagles return to action Tuesday, Jan. 3, with its Region 6A-A home opener against Bremen.