It might take an architect, motivational speaker and psychologist to figure out the little things that have conspired against the Evergreen Cougars this season.
The Cougars can build great leads on the court, but sometimes the blocks get pulled out one by one, they stop building and things start wobbling like Jenga on the coffee table.
While their calmness is often an asset, call it a certain level-headedness amongst the sea of basketball emotions, the fire seems to dwindle and no one has the words to spark the fire.
And while they can win close games — they’ve done it several times this season — they’ve also lost leads and close games, as was the case Feb. 6 when a 10-point lead vanished in a 62-60 overtime loss to Prairie View.
“It’s hard to say when it falls apart like that,” senior Tom Aramovich said of the circumstances that added up to a frustrating nonleague defeat.
The Cougars never trailed during 32 minutes of regulation. They started the fourth quarter up 43-33 but were outscored 17-7 in the final frame and sent to overtime with the score tied at 50.
Evergreen appeared regrouped and refocused and led 54-50 on free throws from Cam Tucker and a cutting layup from Aramovich. Then Prairie View rallied, attacking inside and hitting another 3-pointer to take the lead for the first and last time.
The Cougars didn’t play a bad game, but every turnover seemed to come at the worst time, every defensive lapse resulted in a big shot, and every missed rebound seemed to lead to something good for the visitors.
Evergreen had it customarily strong third quarter, and looked downright dominating. Aramovich scored 11 of his team-best 18 points in the third, swishing three 3-pointers with ease. The Cougars, who took their big lead at 15-4 on Stefan Johnson’s 3-pointer late in the first quarter, outscored the Thunderhawks 22-15 in the third.
Tucker finished with 14 points and Jack Lincoln had eight points, eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
“There certainly were a couple fouls, a couple rebounds that changed the game,” Aramovich said. “As far as picking out one thing, not specifically. We got to keep our head on. We got to be positive and just look to the next game.”
The X-factor was Thunderhawks’ shooting guard Eric Fritch, who attempted 14 shots, 13 from 3-point range and sank six of them for 18 points. The Thunderhawks seemed to run out of options offensively against Evergreen’s defense and resorted to the long ball, sinking 10 3-pointers to stay alive.
Every big basket seemed to sap the energy from the home side.
In overtime, after losing the lead the Cougars tied it at 56 and cut the deficit to 59-58 on Tucker’s layup with 15.8 seconds left.
The Thunderhawks went up 60-58 but missed a free throw, only to get the offensive board and a foul with 8.7 seconds left. They sank two free throws to ice it, although Steve Jensen scored at the buzzer for the Cougars.