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Linden falls in fourth quarter

For three quarters, the Linden Patriots got the shots they wanted, the turnovers they wanted, and the lead they wanted over defending 1A state champion J.F. Shields. But in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t get the rebounds they needed.

Shields used a six-point possession fueled by back-to-back offensive rebounds off of missed free throws to turn a 45-41 Patriot lead into a 47-45 Linden deficit. The Panthers would not trail again, hanging on for a 56-52 win to eliminate Linden in the Regional semifinals for the second straight year.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Linden head coach Eddie Armstead. “We had a few turnovers, missed a couple of shots, and failed to get quite a few rebounds in the second half.”

Linden took a six-point lead, 45-39, on a Jared Jackson basket at the 7:09 mark of the fourth quarter. The Patriots then had chances to extend the lead, with Wesley Hodges first misfiring on a three-point attempt and after a Shields basket, Kendarius Goodwill missing the front end of a one-and-one.

Shields would make the Patriots pay. After Cortez Johnson scored, was fouled, and missed his bonus free throw, Jeffery Finklea corralled the rebound and scored himself to tie the game at 45. Finklea was fouled as well and missed his free throw, only for a third Panther, Demetrius Finklea, to collect the board and score the fifth and sixth points of the Shields possession with 5:53 to play in the game.

“I think that was the turnaround,” said J.F. Shields head coach Jerome Sanders. “We were looking for a good, hard-fought game and we got it.”

Linden wasn’t done quite yet. Three free throws by Darnell Richardson brought Linden within two at 50-48 with 3:38 to play. After three straight points from Shields, Jared Jackson scored on an offensive rebound to cut the lead back to 53-50.

But the Patriots would get no closer. Jonathan Williams scored to restore the lead to 5 with less than two minutes to play and on Linden’s next possession a Goodwill three-pointer rattled out. Linden forced a turnover on Shields’ next possession, only to turn it over in the backcourt themselves. Sean Richardson was then unable to score on a putback with less than 30 seconds left and Linden was forced to foul.

Jeffery Finklea missed his free throws and Sean Richardson scored with 3.6 seconds to play to make it a one-possession contest, but Johnson’s subsequent free throw sealed the victory.

Linden had lost by more than 20 points to Shields in last year’s semifinals, but showed this season’s meeting would be different in the first quarter. Sean Richardson scored five consecutive points for the Patriots as Linden overcame an early 8-2 deficit to tie the game at 12 at the end of the first period.

The second quarter saw the two teams exchange the lead eight times before a Jackson basket and two free throws by Darnell Richardson gave Linden a 27-25 halftime lead. Two Gary Williams three-pointers early in the second half would give the Patriots their largest lead, 35-27, with 5:37 to play in the third quarter. A Sean Richardson jumper just ahead of the third period buzzer put Linden up four, 43-39, entering the decisive final quarter.

Sean Richardson led the way for the Patriots with 14 points and a team-high 7 rebounds, followed by Darnell Richardson and Williams with 10 points each, Jackson with 6, Goodwill with 5, Hodges with 4, Jarvis Chaney with 2, and Marcus Catlin with 1.

Armstead said he was more than happy with how his team played through three quarters.

“We came out very motivated, with a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “We pressured the ball very well, got some fast break baskets in the first half, and did a fairly good job of driving to the basket.”

But in the end, it wasn’t enough for a Linden program that has been Mobile every year this decade, but without a Final Four appearance to show for it since 2000.

“Losing is not comfortable. We just have to look at what happened each year and see what we can do better,” Armstead said, and added, with a chuckle, “Maybe we need a different bracket.”