Keenan coach Zach Norris saw his team grow up over the final 16 minutes of a thrilling 85-77 double-overtime victory against A.C. Flora on Tuesday night.
Freshman Tariq Simmons scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime periods and senior Sam Harmon scored 15 of his 19 points during that span to spoil a solid effort by the homestanding Falcons.
“We grew up a lot tonight, especially Tariq and Sam Harmon,” Norris said. “Sam is a senior but didn’t play a lot of minutes last year. But he played great in the fourth quarter and the overtime periods. Tariq is still learning our system, but he’s going to be a good one.”
The Raiders (1-1) never got into rhythm the first three quarters and trailed from late in the first quarter until the middle of the fourth. South Carolina commit Marcus Stroman was pretty much the entire Keenan offense in the first three quarters as he scored 20 of his 21 points during that time to keep Keenan within striking distance.
A.C. Fora held a 14-point advantage after an intentional foul and technical on Norris with 1:53 remaining in the third quarter.
That’s when Simmons, a transfer from Eau Claire, and Harmon started chipping away. Simmons scored eight quick points to begin the fourth quarter to get the Raiders within six. But the Falcons’ Julian Moreno matched Simmons to help push the lead back to 62-50 with a little less than six minutes remaining.
Keenan then went on a 13-1 run to tie it at 63 on a bucket by Simmons with 1:15 remaining.
A.C. Flora coach Leon Brunson was disappointed with the way his team handled that stretch. They turned it over on seven consecutive possessions to allow Keenan back in it.
“Before the fourth quarter, we were playing a flawless game,” Brunson said. “What can I say? We gave them an early Christmas present. Give Keenan a lot of credit — they didn’t give up, but we gave them the game. They didn’t earn it.”
Flora’s D.D. Grant, who finished with 22 points, hit four free throws, and Harmon had two offensive stickbacks in that final 1:15 to force the first overtime.
The Raiders had a chance to clinch in the first overtime but missed 2 of 4 free throws, and Grant’s 3-pointer at the buzzer forced the second overtime.
Stroman fouled out with 2:40 remaining and Keenan trailing 76-74, but Simmons, Harmon and Kendrick Gathers connected on 11 of 12 free throws while A.C. Flora (1-3) missed all seven shots from the field in the extra period.
Stroman, one of the top point guards for the 2015 class, didn’t start but finished with 21 points as Norris is trying to fit in a relatively new unit around him. The Raiders have started different units the past two games and Norris hopes what is happening now will help come region and playoff time. Antwan Holmes contributed 15 points for the Raiders.
“We don’t have a starting unit yet and that’s what we’re looking to find right now,” Norris said. “We want to win in the early part of the season, but we don’t take much stock in it. We want to be kicking right at the start of region time.”
Karl Gamble scored 19 points for A.C. Flora with Rion Davis adding 15 and Moreno chipping in with 10. The Falcons are having to find a replacement for Matt Howard, who is a freshman at Penn this season.
Brunson hopes this is a learning experience for his team.
“It has to be,” he said, “They put everything out there tonight but it will just as hard on Friday. My job is to get the refocused for that.”