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Bears’ revenge is honey-sweet

AHOSKIE – Less than 24 hours since dispatching Pasquotank, Hertford County had to turn around and get up for their biggest rival in facing Bertie.  The Bears also did this with bitter memories of a 73-59 loss to these same Falcons in the Holiday Classic just one month ago.

In the end, none of it mattered.

Playing one day after celebrating his birthday, Evan Simmons burned Bertie for 28 points, one less than teammate Jaquarii Roberson’s 29, as the Bears came from 16 points down and eclipsed the Falcons in overtime, 81-79.

Bertie had a shot at winning in regulation.  With the game tied 71-71, Donte Horton rose at the free-throw line with the clock ticking down, but his potential game-winner clanged off the front of the rim and the game went to overtime where the Bears prevailed.

Horton led four Falcon players in double-figures with 17 points.  Tydre Lee added 15 while Darquil Wilkins had 13 and Chisom Watson – making his return to the line-up – had 11.  Erick Speight almost made it a quintet with nine.

Jaquarii Roberson had 29 to lead the Bears with 28 for Simmons.  Malachi Staten added eight with five each for Rahkeem Stephenson and Delmonta Cherry.  Rayshawn Beamon scored three, two for J.J. Gatling, and one for Darius Wright.

“We never gave up,” said an exuberant Bears coach Charles Simmons. “This was a great win for us. In the fourth quarter we turned it up defensively and forced some turnovers then made some big shots.  Overall, we had a great team effort from everybody.”

Hertford County raced out to a 4-0 lead before Bertie scored eight unanswered.  They tied it at 6-6 before taking the lead.  Back-to-back scores by Roberson gave the lead back to the Bears before a 4-1 Bertie run at the close made it 16-11, Falcons, at the end of the first quarter.

Hertford County trimmed that lead to just one point twice and tied it once more in the second quarter, but didn’t take the lead until Stephenson hit a big shot with three and a half minutes left in the frame that made it 25-24.  This time the Bears held onto the lead and took another of those one-point leads, 30-29 the edge this go-round, into the locker-room at halftime.

Erick Speight tied it for Bertie early on in the second half, 32-32,  before the two teams swapped the lead six straight trips up court before the Bears tied it again at 39-all.  Bertie then exploded with a 14-2 run and seized a dozen-point lead before the Bears got off the last shot of the quarter, a Simmons jumper, that left the Bears trailing by ten, 53-43.

Bertie quickly pushed that lead out to 15 with a Horton fade away and a three-point play by Lee that made it 58-43 and the silence of the Bear fans may’ve meant they were beginning to sense this one might just end up like the Holiday Classic.  When Horton nailed a pair of free throws at the 6:00 mark, the lead was 14 at 62-48.  The Falcon lead rose to 16 points at the 4:00 mark, 67-51, and some of the Hertford County fans were heading home to watch the Duke game.

But someone should have reminded them there’s a Bear in the woods.

A 9-2 run got the lead down to nine points, 69-60, as the Falcons got lethargic and started to just go through the motions on each trip up court.  Seven more uncontested Bear points followed, and when Simmons drilled a three-pointer with 1:49 left it was a two-point game, 69-67. Bertie, who had not scored a field goal since the 2:15 mark seemed content to win it at the free throw line, and pushed the lead to 71-67 before another big-shot three-pointer from Simmons had it 71-70, Falcons.  Gatling was fouled on the next Hertford County possession, but only made one foul shot, but it tied the score at 71-all.    When the Falcons missed their chance to win it on a buzzer-beater, the Bears seized the opportunity.

In the extra period, Roberson scored to give Hertford County its first lead, 73-71, since it was 37-36 in the second quarter. Bobby Askew answered for Bertie to tie it for the seventh and final time, 73-73.  From there the Bears began making their free throws and with less than 40 seconds led it by six, 79-73.  Watson was fouled on a three-point shot and made all three free throws to halve the Bear lead.  Stephenson made one-of-two at the line again for a four-point lead but Bertie’s Horton dropped a trey to get it down to a single point again, 80-79, Bears. Coach Simmons kept the ball in the hands of his best foul shooters. Roberson was then fouled with one second left and made one-of-two for the two-point margin again. Bertie’s only hope was a catch-and-shoot with so little time left, but that too failed the Falcons and Bertie saw its first defeat of the season in conference play.

“We blew a 16-point lead,” an exasperated Bertie coach Kelvin Hayes said. “We just made too many turnovers and missed too many free throws to win this game.”

Hertford County rose to 8-9 overall and moved into a second-place tie with Northeastern in the conference, both at 6-2.  Bertie fell to 7-1 in the conference and 13-6 overall.

Hertford County can break the tie tonight (Tuesday) at Northeastern.  Bertie will be on the road as well, the Falcons play at Currituck.