Eagles fly past Knights
Allen Moody | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - Those who ventured out to South Florida State College on Saturday night to see the Heartland Eagles had to leave pleasantly surprised. Not only was there a high caliber of talent on display — especially considering that the team has had just a few practices together — but the home team came away with a solid 90-80 victory in their American Basketball League debut over the Emerald Coast Knights.
Published: January 21, 2013
Published: January 21, 2013
Winning games, especially in front of the home fans, is something the team is taking seriously.
"I thought we played strong basketball, which is good for the fans," said Eagles coach Tree Rollins. "I'm proud we won our home game. What we want to do is win our home games. If we can go 12-0 at home at 6-6 on the road we have a chance to be in the final four."
As expected, the game was a little bit sluggish at the start, but once the players got a few first-game jitters out of the way and become comfortable with their new teammates, the paced picked up considerably.
Emerald Coast led 15-13 after the first quarter, but the Eagles responded in the second quarter in a big way. With the score tied at 22, Garfield Blair put the Eagles in front with a 3-pointer and Danny Feliciano followed with another to make it 28-22.
Blair connected on another long-range shot and that was followed by a pair of free throws by Laron Mann. Blair put the finishing touches on the Eagles' 13-0 run with two more free throws, helping the Eagles to a 42-29 advantage at the break.
The Knights staged a comeback attempt at the start of the fourth quarter, going on a 7-0 run to pull within five, but a Quentin Patin basket and a pair of free throws by Nate Miles pushed the lead back to nine.
David Lawson scored three of his team-high 16 points on a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to double digits and Patin put the final exclamation point on the victory with a crowd-pleasing dunk that made it 79-65 and the Eagles were never threatened the remainder of the game.
"I thought we played pretty good considering we haven't had a whole lot of practice," Rollins said. "We just got one guy in here today, and got another the day before."
Rollins said one of the biggest challenges for him as a coach is trying to manage playing time for all the players. As the ABL essentially serves as an opportunity for players to showcase their skills for other leagues, players want as much time on the floor as possible.
"Everybody wants to play and since we only had 10 guys that made it a little bit easier instead of having the normal 12," he said.
The Eagles spread the scoring around, as Mann and Da'Ron Sims added 12 points each, Patin and Alberto Damour scored 11 each and Blair and Miles both had nine.
"The only thing I stressed today was that we played hard and we played together," Rollins said. "In my rookie season we played hard. We didn't win a whole bunch of games, we only won 41 games that year, but the fans enjoyed the way we played because we played hard. If we can put that stamp on our team I think the citizens of the Sebring and Avon Park area will support us."
After the game, the players and Rollins posed for pictures and signed autographs for fans, which is something the team plans on doing to build a connection with those who support them.
Rollins was hopeful those who were at the game will be back for the team's next home game Thursday, as well as bring a few more bodies with them, as the Eagles play host to a talented Panama City Breeze squad that defeated Fort Lauderdale 90-86 Saturday.
"I hope more people come out," Rollins said. "Hopefully the fans who were here tonight will go out and spread the word. Obviously our advertising budget is nonexistent and it's going to be a whole lot of word of mouth."
The Breeze are led by point guards Calvin Cage (University of Buffalo) and Cliff Clinkscales (DePaul) and will present a different challenge for the Eagles as they play a lot of zone defense and can shoot the lights out from long range. Against Fort Lauderdale, the Breeze connected on 19 3-pointers, including seven from Cage.
Game time Thursday is 7 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children.
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