The 10th annual Moody Holiday Classic got underway Tuesday with the host Northwestern Trojans surviving a frantic 4th-quarter rally by the Australian Travelers to pull out a 49-46 victory.
The Trojans led 40-29 heading into the final period, but the Slammers of Australia outscored the home team 16-6 to pull within one at 46-45 with 1:11 to play after two free throws from Jeremy Paull.
Northwestern's Montrece Kennedy missed on the other end and the Trojans fouled Paull again going for the rebound. This time however, Paull missed both charity tosses with 42.9 seconds remaining and a chance to put his team ahead for the first time since they led 10-9 after scoring the first bucket of the second period. Paull then fouled Trojans junior Jaleen Orr, who made both shots to put Northwestern up by three.
After a free throw for each team, the Slammers had a chance to send the game into overtime with possession of the ball and 7.8 seconds to go the length of the court. They were able to get a decent look at a 3-pointer, but it was off the mark as the final buzzer sounded, sending the Trojans into an 8:30 p.m. matchup today with the winner of the South Pointe/Butler game which followed. There will be four games today and Thursday.
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The toughest part for the Aussies and their coach Greg Worthington may not have been adjusting to the American style of ball as much as it was fighting off being jetlagged after traveling a day and a half and dodging the snowstorm to finally get to Rock Hill.
"Good effort considering we spent 36 to 38 hours getting here," Worthington said. "We beat the blizzard, we were supposed to go to Chicago. We ended up going to Washington, D.C., and ran across the tarmac and got on another plane and ended up in Raleigh. It's very good to be here and the families that have been looking after our kids have been fantastic. All compliments to Northwestern."
Before the game, all players on each roster were introduced and the Northwestern players each had a bag containing a gift that they presented to the Australian team members. The Slammers did have a cheering section as the Australian ladies team came to support them after playing in the Exxon on the Run girls tournament, which is being held in York.
The Trojans maintained a confortable working margin for the second and third quarters before being outscored 17-9 in the final eight minutes.
"We said in the locker room we had to make free throws and control the boards and we didn't and that's how they got back in the game," Northwestern coach Mike Gossett said. "Credit to them, they never quit. Our guys didn't stop playing, we just stopped making good decisions. We showed moments of being really good and moments of being really bad, but we just haven't had enough time together. We'll work it out and we'll get better."
The Trojans finished the first half with a 9-2 run punctuated by a running three from just past half-court by junior Jhante McMillian that hit glass and fell through as the buzzer sounded, sending Northwestern into the locker room with momentum and a 25-16 advantage. Sophomore LaThomas Long also hit a shot to beat the buzzer as the third period ended.
Worthington said the Australian Travelers is a basketball academy which is a four-year program for kids ages 14 to 17.
"We just came up with the idea to reward the kids with a trip to the States, so everyone put their heads down and bum up and worked hard for that," Worthington said. "So hopefully every second year we should be coming through this."