AUBURN – Nate Eldridge will admit free throw shooting might not be his forte, but the Cony senior forward knew there might be no bigger fouls shots in his basketball career.

“I don’t shoot them well,” said the Ram, who stepped to the line with Wednesday’s Eastern A preliminary game tied with 12 seconds left. “My main focus was to relax. I knew we had to get that win. So I told myself to Relax, relax, relax.’ but it’s tough with that crowd roaring.”

Despite a raucous Edward Little crowd jeering in unison, Eldridge calmly hit one of two free throws to give Cony the lead. Moments later, he came up with a crucial steal to deliver the 13th-ranked Rams a stunning 56-54 upset of the fourth-seeded Red Eddies.

“I’m very proud of them,” said Cony coach Bruce Hunt. “We came with a lot of intensity. We had an intense game with Gardiner. We lost, but we had a lot of intensity. We had three days to prepare for EL, and we put a couple of wrinkles in defensively.”

The Rams’ zone defense frustrated the Red Eddies. Though EL (14-5) made a gallant run down the stretch, the Red Eddies couldn’t extend its 11-game winning streak.

“It’s tough to end the year, which was so positive, on such a negative note,” said EL coach Mike Adams. “The kids deserve to get to Augusta. We just didn’t take advantage of it tonight. We had 15 kids that committed hard and gave us everything they could. It just wasn’t a very good night for EL.”

Down by as many as 13 in the third quarter, EL came roaring back in the fourth. Troy Barnies, who finished with 24, had six points and set up two others as EL closed the gap. He fed Cam Leary for a hoop with 2:23 left and then scored on a leaner to get EL within 52-50.

After two free throws by Eldridge with 1:27 left, Barnies hit a leaner and Ryan Goss drilled a baseline jumper from the right side with 42 seconds left to tie it. Eldridge drew a foul in the paint with 12 seconds left and hit the first. EL got the rebound on the miss of the second and rushed down the court. A pass to the right side was intercepted by Eldridge.

“I told the team that we had to “D” up,” said Eldridge, who finished with 17 points. “For some reason, they passed down to that side. Coach always tells us to get our angles. I saw that ball. No matter if it was a foul or not, I was going for it.”

He hit a second free throw, and EL was left with a last-second heave from halfcourt.

“We waited too long to be really aggressive and look to get the ball inside again,” said Adams. “By the time we did, it was too late.”

EL was up by as many as seven in the second quarter, but the outside shooting suddenly went cold, and EL struggled against Cony’s packed in defense.

“We weren’t patient enough offensively,” said Adams. “We didn’t attack. We settled for jump shots instead of being more aggressive. We got decent shots, but we didn’t get the better shots that we could.”

Cony’s Andrew Pullen killed EL on the boards and had 14 of his 24 points in the second and third quarters. The Rams (6-13) opened up a 47-34 lead late in the third before back-to-back three-point plays by Barnies got EL within 47-40 after three quarters.

“We lost three in a row early on in the year,” said Adams. “Nobody gave us much of a chance to finish with a respectable record. For the kids to finish 14-4 and earn the fourth seed in the East, it says a lot about the character and how hard they’re willing to work.”


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