The McDowell Titans must have felt a lot like Sisyphus Friday night.
Like the unfortunate king from Greek mythology, they struggled mightily to roll a ponderous boulder up a great hill, only to see the rock roll right back down the mountain as they neared the summit.
The Titans battled back from an 18-point, first-half deficit to take a five-point lead down the stretch; but fell to the Saint Stephens Indians 69-68 when they couldn’t convert on a pair of scoring opportunities as time expired.
McDowell (0-2 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, 5-6 overall), as has been the case several times this season, fell behind early and then outscored its opponent over the course of the second, third and fourth quarters.
But the Indians (2-1, 6-5) made enough plays in crunch-time to hold off the frustrated Titans.
Axavier Byrd’s free throw with 10.1 seconds left turned out to be the game-winner. It put St. Stephens ahead 69-68, but left the Titans ample time to get a decent look, and they did.
Point guard J.C. Olivo found an open lane to the basket and drove to the rim, but his off-balance layup missed. Sophomore Dequan Boyce snared the rebound and went back up, but his shot also went askew, and Byrd pulled the board and was fouled with 6/10s of a second remaining to seal the win.
Byrd’s play was a huge factor in the Indians’ win. The 6-foot-4 senior poured in a game-high 25 points, 17 of them in the second half, to go with a game-high 12 rebounds. He went 8-of-9 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the line. Zane McPherson added 16 points for St. Stephens, whose length gave McDowell problems on the boards.
Qualique Garner (6 rebounds) led the Titans with 19 points, and his relentless attacking of the basket was a key to McDowell’s comeback. Post Trent Lewis (8 rebounds) added 15 points but fouled out with 1:43 to go. Dylan McRary (4 steals, 2 blocks) tossed in 13 points.
But nobody did much of anything for McDowell over the first quarter-and-a-half as St. Stephens built an 18-8 lead after one quarter and extended it to as many as 18 at 30-12 with 4:56 to go before halftime.
The Titans answered with a 13-2 run sparked by their half-court zone trap, and by halftime, they had gotten back in the game, trailing 36-27.
McDowell’s momentum carried over into the third quarter, and they finally captured the lead at 43-42 on Boyce’s bucket off a Garner assist with 2:00 to play in the third.
The Indians forged ahead 47-45 at the end of the three, but the Titans eventually built a 62-57 advantage on a pair of free throws by Olivo (9 points, 5 assists, 2 steals) with 3:14 to go.
The Titans forced a St. Stephens turnover on the ensuing possession and then worked the ball inside to Lewis for what looked like an easy score. But Saint’s defense recovered quickly, getting their hands on the ball, and McDowell couldn’t convert despite getting the offensive board after Lewis misfired on the initial shot.
That left the door wide open for the Indians.
McPherson hit a 3-pointer on the other end to cut the lead to 62-60, and from there, it was anybody’s game, with four ties and four lead changes in the last 2:20.
McDowell, who, before Friday, hadn’t played at home since Dec. 4, hosts three games next week. Watauga visits Tuesday; non-conference opponent Mitchell is in town Wednesday for a make-up game; and NWC foe Alexander Central is at Titan Gym Friday.
St. Stephens (69) Mikey Daaboul 1-1 0-0 2, Axavier Byrd 8-9 9-11 25, Matthew Walker 1-7 0-0 2, Joshadrian Ikard 2-7 0-0 4, Will Rose 3-10 0-0 6, J.I. Ikard 3-7 0-0 8, Charlie Woy 2-5 0-0 6, Zane McPherson 4-12 5-5 16. Totals: 24-58 14-16 69.
McDowell (68) Qualique Garner 6-18 5-7 19, Adam Randolph 2-4 0-0 4, Trent Lewis 6-8 3-6 15, Dylan McRary 6-17 1-1 13, J.C. Olivo 2-8 5-6 9, Dequan Boyce 1-3 0-2 2, Richard Handy 2-2 1-2 5, Andruw Randolph 0-0 1-2 1, Trenton Gragg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-60 16-26 68.
St. Stephens 18 18 11 22 – 69
McDowell 08 19 18 23 – 68
Rebounds: SS (33) MHS (34) Rebound leaders: SS (Byrd 12) MHS (Lewis 8) 3-point goals: SS (7-19) MHS (2-18) SS (J. Ikard 0-2, J.I. Ikard 2-5, Woy 2-3, McPherson 3-9) MHS (Olivo 0-5, McRary 0-6, Garner 2-7) McDowell assist leaders: (Olivo 5) McDowell steals leaders: (McRary 4) McDowell blocked shot leaders: (McRary 2) Turnovers: SS (17) MHS (16) Fouled out: MHS (Lewis 1:43—fourth)