---- — By Eric Shultz
For The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP -- In the closing seconds of the first half, Lourdes Regional pulled an offensive rebound and kicked the ball to the perimeter for a final shot.
Sophomore Jordan Fobia received the pass behind the arc and quickly fired before the buzzer sounded. After rattling around the rim, his shot fell and his team went to halftime with a 12-point lead against Line Mountain.
Fobia's buzzer-beater was the only 3-pointer the Red Raiders hit all game Friday, but they did not need much long-range shooting, anyway. Thanks to strong play from their post players, the Red Raiders (4-2) topped the Eagles in the opening game of the 47th annual Knights of Columbus Holiday Basketball Tournament, 43-27.
Playing a young team with just one senior, the Raiders' victory was fueled by big men Larry Czeponis and Coby Feese, who are both freshmen. They scored 10 points apiece, as their offense frequently looked inside for high-percentage shots.
Czeponis and Feese also used their height to grab rebounds on both ends of the floor.
"It's a nice luxury to have," Lourdes coach Peter Long said of the pair.
The boys tournament opener started slowly, as the first quarter ended with Lourdes holding a 7-6 advantage. But the Raiders quickly found their stride and stretched their lead.
The Eagles (0-8), led by Elijah Zablosky's nine points, had their share of quality shots throughout the game, but fell behind after they could not convert field goals at a similar rate.
They had opportunities in the second half to close the gap a bit at the foul line but were too inefficient there to stay with the Raiders, shooting 6-for-18 overall from the charity stripe. If they shot free throws at a higher clip, Long noted, "They're right in the game."
"If you make some free throws, that can get you in a little rhythm," Eagles coach Craig Reichard said. "That probably was the difference, making the foul shots."
With Czeponis and Feese setting the pace, the Raiders cruised to the final buzzer with a comfortable lead. But while Long said he was happy with the win and his team's current record, he noted there was still room for improvement.
"I want them to get better every game, and I don't think we got better (Friday)," Long said. "I think we were sloppy with the ball. ... But every win's a good win with this young team."
Long said he wants to see his team be more physical on the inside, reduce the turnovers that occurred Friday and play smarter defense, noting that his team is still looking to mature.
The Raiders play neighbor and tournament host Shamokin for the championship today at 7:30. The unbeaten Indians beat Minersville, 58-47.
Line Mountain will see Minersville -- which handed Lourdes a blowout loss earlier this month -- in the 6 p.m. consolation game. The Eagles will also look to take a step forward as a team, as they still search for their first win of the season.
"The looks are there," Reichard said. "The ball's going to go in eventually."