SPRINGFIELD — Nothing came easy during Rutherford’s 55-49 boys basketball victory over visiting Fort Walton Beach on Saturday.
The Rams scratched out the final seven points of the game to extend their winning streak to 11. They are 22-3 overall while dropping the Vikings to 17-7 and ending their six-game streak.
Neither was there much artistic in 32 minutes of back-and-forth basketball. At least outside of the scoring exhibition put on by the Vikings’ Tyrone Culbreth in the third quarter.
In short, this was a struggle throughout. Just about what Rutherford coach Rhondie Ross envisioned when he scheduled the game as the final tune-up prior to the district tournament starting on Tuesday.
“Exactly, we wanted a good test,” Ross said. “And we didn’t know that they would be without their best player” in 6-foot-10 John Egbunu, forced to sit out for Fort Walton Beach with what Ross said was a back injury.
Rutherford trailed 49-48 when Kiki Williamson made the front end of the bonus to tie the game with 1:13 remaining. Fellow senior Stephen Carr, scoreless to that point, was fouled on a rebound scramble under the Vikings’ basket and made both ends of the 1-and-1 for his only points of the game and 51-49 edge.
Carr’s ensuing steal of Culbreth’s pass with 0:41 showing led to two free throws by sophomore Gabe Steele, who paced Rutherford with 17 points. Steele swished two more free throws when the Vikings were forced to foul after missing from the outside.
“This was a great team win, but I thought Gabe Steele played very well for us,” Ross said. Neither was he about to slight Keith Arts for his defense against Culbreth in the third quarter.
Rutherford seemingly had overcome a lethargic beginning on Senior Day and led 24-18 before Fort Walton Beach closed the first half with a 9-1 run.
Then Culbreth really kept his team’s hopes alive. He made five field goals for all 10 of the Vikings’ points in the third quarter. Aside from the first basket, all were contested and came on a variety of fallaways, floaters and penetration pull-ups. Culbreth finished with 24 points to lead all scorers.
Rutherford eased to a 42-37 lead after three quarters, but never came close to shaking the visitors. Drew Davis had two of his four 3-pointers in the final quarter, the last with 1:53 left that shredded the Rams’ edge to 48-47.
Culbreth then put the Vikings ahead for the first time since early in the third quarter with a determined drive to the basket with 1:24 left, but Fort Walton Beach went scoreless from that stage.
Davis supported Culbreth with 16 points. Khaliel Spearman had 13 points and Williamson 10 for the Rams, who held an opponent under 50 points for the 11th consecutive game.
Rutherford won the junior varsity game 74-51.
- FWB (49)
- Davenport 0 0-0 0, Culbreth 10 4-8 24, Ryan 2 0-0 6, Davis 5 2-2 16, Black 1 0-0 3, James 0 0-0 0, Bowden 0 0-0 0, Lawrence 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 6-10 49.
- RUTHERFORD (55)
- Steele 5 5-5 17, Williamson 4 2-6 10, James 0 0-0 0, Spearman 4 3-3 13, Banks 1 1-2 3, Arts 2 2-2 6, Carr 0 2-2 2, Jencks 2 0-4 4, Dunton 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 15-24 55.
- Fort Walton Beach 15 12 10 12 — 49
- Rutherford 14 11 17 13 — 55
- 3-point goals: FWB 7 (Davis 4, Ryan 2, Black), Rutherford 4 (Spearman 2, Steele 2). Total fouls: FWB 17, Rutherford 12. Fouled out: none.