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Spartans storm back, oust Auburn in OT

By TANNER COOK • Mar 2, 2019 at 2:13 AM

CHRISTIANSBURG — The hopes seemed slim for the Eastside boys basketball team.

The Spartans were down by 10 points with 5:41 left to play in Friday night’s VHSL Class 1 quarterfinal game against Auburn at Christiansburg High School.

Then Eastside coach Patrick Damron turned up the pressure.

The Spartans roared back, tying the game at 58 on Ethan Powers’ 3-pointer at the buzzer, then held the Eagles to two points in overtime to win 63-60.

“That is a lot of repetition in the gym by himself,” Damron said. “I’d love to take credit for it, but he and his dad go to the gym and he shoots a lot. When the game is on the line, everyone in the gym knew we were going to get it to him. That was the shot we wanted and it was win or go home.”

Chris Swann made the 3-point bucket that put Eastside ahead with 59.3 seconds left in overtime, and a momentous steal by Garrett Whited sealed the deal for the Spartans. Powers was able to make his free throws and put the game on ice.

Austin Ford’s shot at the horn that would have tied the game for Auburn was short and rebounded by Whited.

Powers finished with a game-high 19 points.

Taylor Newcome led Auburn with 17 points.

Eastside (25-4) advanced to the semifinals on Tuesday to meet Cumberland District rival J.I. Burton for the sixth time this season.

“WE’RE RELENTLESS”

“I can’t say enough about our team’s heart and grit,” Damron said. “We’ve had a lot of games like this this year where we’ve been down double digits and they never quit. We’re relentless.”

A series of four straight Auburn (20-9) turnovers starting with a five second violation sparked the Spartans’ run in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch, the young Eagles certainly looked like a team playing in its first state tournament since 1999.

“I felt like when the game went into overtime that our experience was going to pay off,” Damron said. “We got in foul trouble and we held our hand a little bit. We said if we can stay out of foul trouble and get it to five minutes, we’re going to really crank up the pressure.”

The Eagles scored just seven points over the last six minutes and change of both the regulation and overtime while Eastside scored 17.

Auburn did have a 31-30 lead at the half and scored 21 points in the second quarter to seize all the momentum. It also looked bleak for the Spartans in the third quarter when the Eagles soared on an 8-2 run to start the third period.

“They’re a good team and we wanted someone to take the shot at the end of the game that maybe hadn’t been in that situation before,” Damron said. “My hat is off to Auburn. They’re a young team and they’ll be back in this position next year looking to take the next step. …

“I can’t say enough about what it means to be a part of a winning program,” the coach added. “It carries over on the court, even if you get limited minutes. It means knowing and watching what it takes to win games. …

“We’ll play anybody in the semifinals. I know it’s the sixth time, but we’ll take it at this point.”

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