The Nixyaawii Golden Eagles led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter. Then junior Josh Barkley, the motor that makes Nixyaawii’s boys’ basketball team run, fouled out.
Without Barkley to run the game, the Golden Eagles (4-5, 1-1 BSC) fell in overtime to Pine Eagle 65-58 on Tuesday afternoon.
Trailing by two with just seconds to play, Joe Akers of Pine Eagle (1-6) put in a shot from under the hoop to send the game to an extra period tied at 53-all. A Nixyaawii timeout with 8.6 seconds left gave the Golden Eagles time to draw up a play. Barkley would normally take the shots in such crucial moments. The task fell to Ajiah Ganualas-Smartlowit.
“We were trying to run a pick-and-roll pretty much,” said Ganualas-Smartlowit, a sophomore. “A screen to let us go to the hoop and cut in, or else I’ll take the (3-point) shot.”
In overtime, the youth of the Golden Eagles showed. Ganualas-Smartlowit was the only Nixyaawii player to score, netting five of his 15 points for the game. Three guards handled the ball, none older than a sophomore. As his players saw the Spartans mount a rally, their body language suggested they felt the game was already lost heading into overtime, Nixyaawii coach Aaron Noisey said.
“Mentally, a couple of them had probably already checked out of the game, having never been in this situation before,” Noisey said. “It was hard for them to regroup and kind of bounce back.
“That’s something we need to work on. The mental part of the game is just as important as the physical.”
Barkley had taken over the game before his untimely exit. With the Golden Eagles trailing 15-24 just after halftime — much of that lead built while Barkley sat with early fouls — the 5-foot-9 guard put on his Superman cape. He scored 16 of his 24 total points in the third quarter and energized his team. As a group, the Golden Eagles shot better than 70 percent in the frame while lighting up the scoreboard for 31 points.
Noisey said he and his players all know how important Barkley is to their offense and other teams sense that.
“It’s frustrating because when I grew up playing, having the ball in my hands was everything,” said Barkley of having to watch from the bench as Pine Eagle regained control. “So being a leader is what I try to be, but in the end it’s good on both ways because we learn to play without me.”
Akers paced the Pine Eagle attack with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Sophomore Colter Marks also had 17 points as the Spartans won their first game of the season.
The two teams could meet again next week at the Wallowa Lions Invitational that begins Dec. 27. Both teams will participate in tournament play. It would be the third meeting of the season. Nixyaawii took the first game 54-52.