JEFFERSON - The Jefferson Falcons played a great game in many ways Friday night against the visiting Girard Indians. Unfortunately for Jefferson on a night when they celebrated 50 years of Falcon basketball, two fundamental facets of the game came into play on the negative side as they dropped a thrilling 79-75 All-American Conference, National Division, battle to the Indians.
Pour free throw shooting over the first three quarters hurt, and the inability to defend Girard star forward Craig Randall in the second half, when he scored 34 of his game-high 41 points, proved to be too much to overcome for Jefferson.
The Falcons made just 4 of 13 free throws over the first three quarters, and in the third period, Randall came out firing, scoring 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting in the quarter. He repeatedly either drove to close range on either side of the hoop for short jumpers or fired from long range.
Three of his hoops for the quarter went from beyond the arc after the Falcons held him to a 1 of 11 first half.
"Craig has pretty much been our horse this season," Girard coach Craig Hannon said. "Over the last couple games, too, he has really stepped up his game for us. It seems things are slowing down for him a lot. He's just a basketball junkie, a real gym rat, and he's improving every facet of his game."
With Randall's hot hand starting the third period, the teams battled to a 43-43 standoff with five minutes left in the third when Troy Bloom (21 points, 4 assists) nailed a long 3-pointer from the left wing.
Bloom's shot ignited an 8-0 run for the Falcons, but Korri Maynard split a pair of free shots to end the run and sparked an 11-0 Indian run. Girard took a 59-50 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Bloom, who tallied 17 of his 21 points in the second half and 11 in the fourth period, finally got Jefferson (2-6) back to a 68-68 tie with his fourth 3-pointer with more than 3 minutes remaining.
Evan Standohar broke the tie with a free throw, and the Indians hit 5 of 8 in the last minute to end any hopes of a Jefferson comeback.
The free throws were fueled as a trio of Falcons went to the bench with five fouls, and as cold as Jefferson was over the first three periods, Girard (4-3, 2-1 in AAC) was hot. They totaled 31 of 40 for the night, and Randall drained 20 of his 25 attempts.
"We knew coming in that Randall is a really nice player," Jefferson coach Jeremy Huber said. "He just does so much when he creates and penetrates with the ball. Both teams knew what we would do coming in, so there were no surprises. We're still a growing team, though, and mistakes hurt at times. Our effort was great."
Balanced scoring went in Jefferson's favor as Bloom hit for his 21, David Chase and Lucas Hitchcock each added 15, Brett Powers put home 11 coming off the bench, and Jacob Hamilton added seven while playing a solid game handling the ball. Hamilton dished out five assists as Jefferson had 17 on their 29 hoops for the night. Jefferson made 29 of 51 shots.
Jim Standohar helped Randall in scoring 15 points.
But the game came down to free throws and keeping a handle on Randall, a pair of points of the game Jefferson came up just short on.
"Jefferson was a much more physical team than we anticipated," Hannon said. "They are a good team with a great coach in Coach Huber, and as they learn to play for him, they will be just fine. Their defense took us out of a lot of what we wanted to do, but Craig (Randall) played a great game for us to lead us to the win."