ST. JAMES, MARYLAND -- Eric Price, a 6-2 freshman, strolled to the line with just 23.7 seconds left in the game and sank both free throws to give Montrose Christian a 54-52 win over National Christian Academy and third place at the 2002 edition of the St. James Invitational Tournament Saturday night.
The preceding two games were decided in the last minute so guess it wasn't really unexpected that the third contest would also end in dramatic fashion. With both teams in the Washington Post's Top Ten, it also promised to be a solid basketball game.
National Christian, who had lost to Notre Dame Academy in overtime in the semis, pushed the ball and grabbed a 10-2 lead to start the game. The Eagles maintained the lead through the half, carrying a 39-27 edge at the break.
Montrose, defeated in the semis by the eventual champion Thomas Jefferson, brought the spread down to three twice, the last time in the final minute of the third quarter. NCA, from Fort Washington, MD, racheted the lead up one to 48-44 at the end of that period.
Montrose, from Rockville, MD, finally tied the game for the first time since 2-2 in the opening minute at 52-52 on a traditional three-point play by junior big man Linas Kleiza with 1:32 left in the game. Senior forward Gordon Klaiber fouled out on that play.
After turnovers by both teams, sophomore guard Earl Risby fouled Price with less than a half-minute on the clock. That put Montrose in the bonus and the freshman on the line for the one-and-one.
Price calmly sank the first attempt, after which a timeout was called. Traditionally that comes from the opposition hoping to increase pressure on the shooter. But in this case, it was called by Montrose head coach Stu Vetter. Price responded with the second swish to put the Mustangs up 54-52.
After a missed jump shot by Jabbar Young (West Virginia), NCA got the ball back on a deadball rebound with 3.2 seconds left. The ball was thrown in just before a five-second violation was called and was batted away by the Mustangs but was picked up off the floor by senior Charlie Bell (Loyola - MD) whose running jump shot was just off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
Price led Montrose (18-5) with 16 points followed by Klieza with 12. Bell led National Christian (22-3) with 15 points. Junior Keith Blanks added 12 for the Eagles. Both Bell and Kleiza were named to the All-Tournament Team for their solid play, not just Saturday night, but in all three games.
National Christian's senior guard Chris Slade was forced out of the game in the first half with a joint injury (apparently his left shoulder). He was immediately taken for treatment.
NCA scored just 13 points in the second half, exactly one third of their first half total (39).