With big man Timothy Hawkins on the bench for most the first quarter with two early fouls, Saks was unable to take advantage of the Bearcats (6-3) despite leading 20-13 at the end of the quarter.
By the end of the game, it was Weaver’s Chris English and Mike Stephens who were able to hit the free throws in front of a standing-room-only crowd to earn the win at home.
“I try to put a lot of pressure on them at the free-throw line at practice,” Bearcats coach Daryl Hamby said. “And I tell them, being as experienced as I am, I can’t put as much pressure on them as in game. Mike Stephens and Chris really stepped up for us.”
Between the fouls, the game was one of streaks from the beginning to the end. Each time Saks (4-3) would go on a run, Weaver would slowly respond with one of its own.
“In moments that we’re ahead, I feel like we relax,” Hamby said. “And we can’t keep doing that because good teams will beat us.”
The first big Saks run came late in the second quarter when Daniel Heard made an and-one shot inside to regain the lead 29-28 after the Wildcats got four offensive rebounds. From there, Saks scored nine more points before English made a foul shot just before the half.
“I thought we played good during stretches,” Wildcats coach Jonathan Miller said. “We got a couple of big leads and we played well at times. We just have to eliminate the mistakes that are hurting us down the stretch and grow up a little bit.”
Those mistakes down the stretch started for Saks almost immediately in the second half and continued for the entire third quarter.
After Heard extended the lead to 40-29 with the opening bucket of the half, Weaver scored in loads.
“I just said to not break away from the game plan,” Hamby said. “I felt we got a lead with our game plan, but then we didn’t get the lead when we did what we wanted to do as individuals. We’re trying to teach these kids about using the whole team.”
First came 13 consecutive points to give Weaver a 42-40 lead. After a Saks basket were four more Bearcats points then six more came after the next Wildcat score. Weaver won the quarter 23-12, but only led 52-50 heading into the fourth.
“A lot of times people look at how much we scored, but sometimes we’re letting too many other people score on the other end,” Hamby said. “We’ve got to look also at the defense.”
Saks made its move quickly in the final quarter. Heard brought the gym down with a huge put-back slam on a missed free throw by LaDarius Young, making the score 58-53.
“The guy can jump, that’s obvious,” Miller said. “He just made a good play and it was exciting, but you have to move on and play.”
Although the Saks run continued give it an 11-point lead, Weaver didn’t submit.
Everything started with 3:35 left in the game when Brandon Smith hit a 3-pointer and Stephens sank all three foul shots after being fouled beyond the arc.
“We were up 11 with three and a half minutes to go and you have to be able to put the game away at that point,” Miller said. “We just made too many mistakes down the stretch. We turned the ball over and we have to have people step up in those tight situations.”
Trailing 69-64, English and the Weaver defense took over the rest of the way.
“Timothy kept telling me to drive and if I missed he had my rebound,” English said. “He gave me confidence to keep shooting, so I just kept shooting my shot.”
English’s shot, more times than not, ended with him at the foul line. He scored seven of Weaver’s final nine points, including five free throws, to win the game.
He finished the night with a game-high 34 points. Stephens added 14 points and nine rebounds as Fernando Forbes had nine points.
Heard led the way for Saks with 20 points and 12 boards while D’Aundre Green scored 14.
“The great rivalry between us and Saks is always a good game,” Hamby said. “I like the way both teams just went back and forth and never quit. It’s sad that someone had to lose that game because both of them played so hard.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.