The Viera Hawks have had some character defining moments this season … and they got another one Friday night.
Trailing by 12 midway through the third quarter, the Hawks put together a 16-0 run, then got some clutch free throw shooting by freshman Conlan Oakley and sophomore Kamar Plain down the stretch to pull away for a 57-51 victory over visiting cross-town rival Melbourne in a big Class 6A, District 8 game.
It was a rematch of last year’s district title game and the first matchup for the Hawks (10-4) since the winter break. But Viera was hardly inactive during the final weeks of December, going 3-0 at the Daytona Christmas Shootout with wins over St. Joseph Academy of St. Augustine, Lakeland and a team from McLean, Virginia.
The Hawks then went to play in one of the most prestigious tournaments in the state, the Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala. Viera went 0-3 in that tournament, but certainly came away battle tested, a factor that certainly helped them overcome the Bulldogs Friday night.
“I think it was a good win for us,” Viera coach Logan Keith said in a text message. “We (also) had some character defining moments while playing in Ocala over the break.”
Plain finished with 14 points to lead Viera, while seniors Amir Cason and Justin Weatherspoon each finished with 13.
The Hawks struggled to get off to a good start as Melbourne (9-4) opened up a 10-2 first quarter lead and was consistently able to get open looks from the corner for 3-pointers that the Bulldogs cashed in on. The Hawks, meanwhile, struggled to hit their shots early on.
“The first half of the game, we didn’t execute our defensive game plan … kept leaving shooters open,” Keith said.
Despite those struggles, Viera was able to stay with the Bulldogs, tying the score at 15-15 at the end of the first quarter and holding a one-point lead late in the second quarter before the Bulldogs capitalized on two steals and layups – the last one just before the buzzer – to move in front by three at the break.
That lead ballooned to 12 points at 43-31 midway through the third quarter before the Hawks began to catch fire.
Freshman Brooks Harris hit a pair of 3-pointers and Weatherspoon began to heat up as the Hawks went on a 16-0 run between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.
A basket by Weatherspoon tied the score at 43-43 and after a pair of free throws by Cason, Plain scored to put Viera up by four.
“Taking away their shooters started that run,” Keith said. “Making shots helped a ton. It gives us another energy level.”
Viera had all the momentum, but the Bulldogs weren’t done, eventually tying the score at 51-51 with just under three minutes left and setting the stage for some late-game drama.
Oakley was fouled while grabbing a rebound and went to the free throw line in a one-and-one situation with 1:41 remaining. The freshman hit both shots to put the Hawks up by two. On Melbourne’s ensuing possession, Oakley was again fouled while trying to grab a rebound and went back to the line.
This time, he missed the front end of the one-and-one, but made a heads up play by tipping the ball back to Cason and Viera called timeout with 1:01 to play.
The Hawks worked the ball, forcing Melbourne to foul Plain, who then hit both free throws to make it a four-point game and put the Bulldogs in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“Conlan played great, put two hands on the ball rebounding, knocked down some clutch free throws and played physically tough,” Keith said.
Viera would add two more free throws in the closing moments to pull out the victory.
Harris would finish with six points, senior Tyler Costin had five, Oakley had four and Jack Hancock rounded out the scoring for Viera with two.
It was clearly a team win for Viera, which got solid performances all around, and not just from its starters.
“I thought Zack Pillow, Cooper Keith, Jack Hancock and Brooks Harris played very well for us off the bench,” Logan Keith said. “Kamar Plain was really good for us tonight, attacking the rim. He made some clutch shots in the pain and played to his strengths.”
Viera is set to return to action Tuesday night at home against West Shore.