In the end, their hearts couldn”t be questioned.
That was little solace Friday night to coach Drew McBrayer and the members of the New Hope High School boys basketball team, who were left shaking their heads at what could have been.
Four and seven tenths, or was it 6.9 seconds?
Did Johnathan Brandon foul Callaway High”s Deville Smith on the last-second 3-pointer?
Those questions will haunt a game New Hope team for a long time because the Trojans weren”t satisfied with the answers they received on their home floor.
Instead, the Trojans were left with a reality that saw Smith score 48 points, including all 12 of his team”s points in the second overtime, in a 78-75 victory in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State semifinals.
With the victory, Callaway and Provine, which defeated Ridgeland on Friday, earned spots in the Class 5A State Tournament, which starts later this week in Jackson.
New Hope, which saw its season end at the hands of Callaway last season, finished 25-4.
A loss earlier in the week by Oxford to Ridgeland secured New Hope an opportunity to play host to the tournament. Typically, a chance to play host to an event works to the home team”s advantage in that it will get the benefit of the doubt on some close calls.
Coaches, and officials, for that matter, might not like to admit it, but home teams have benefited from a call, or non-call, playing a role in the outcome of games at all levels.
In this case, that much can”t be denied, which is why McBrayer was left wishing for something more after watching the Trojans play so hard against a program that won the Class 4A and Grand Slam championships last season.
“I thought it was an extremely well-played ballgame at both ends of the floor by both teams,” McBrayer said. “It is one of those games these kids are going to remember forever. It is going to hurt for a long time because I thought we had it.”
McBrayer believed the Trojans were going to pull the upset thanks to the heroics of Raymond Walters, who scored only three points in the first half and shook off a stomach virus to have a monster second half. The senior guard apparently capped the game with a fallaway 3-pointer at the top of the key with 4.7 seconds on the clock that gave New Hope a 55-53 lead.
But the officials put 2.2 seconds back on the clock after New Hope called a timeout. The added time enabled Smith (48 points) to work his magic. The speedy junior guard took the inbounds pass and looked to create a shot on the left wing. Brandon blocked his path and appeared to have him contained just outside the 3-point arc. With the clock winding down, Smith lost the ball, regained control, and went up for a shot. Brandon kept his arms straight up and looked to avoid contact. His defense appeared to good enough, as Smith”s shot missed at the buzzer.
But the officials didn”t agree.
Brandon was whistled for the foul, which sent Smith to the free-throw line with no time left on the clock. Smith made the first, missed the second, and swished the third to send the game to overtime.
The call didn”t sit well with Brandon or McBrayer.
“My hand was straight up,” Brandon said. “I hate for the officials to decide the game. This was for it all, and it means everything for us to go to Jackson. … Let us go out and play ball. He is a (member of The Clarion-Ledger”s) Dandy Dozen. If he makes a clutch three, let him make a clutch three.”
Said McBrayer, “Most of the time it is a non-call, especially with as little contact as was actually there. When a game comes down to those three guys in the black and white stripes it is out of our hands. You just hope they make the right decision and don”t cheat the kids, but the majority of the time the whistle is not blown.”
Despite such a deflating call, New Hope remained focused. In the first overtime, Jamal Richardson (12 points) hit two free throws with 25.8 seconds remaining and Brandon (20) hit three more after he got the benefit of the doubt on another questionable call to help New Hope trail 66-64 with 10.1 seconds to play.
Callaway inbounded the ball to Smith, but New Hope opted not to foul him or couldn”t foul him right away. The move paid off as Smith lost the ball near the free-throw line and was tied up by Brandon. The alternating possession arrow gave the ball back to the Trojans.
Walters (27 points) took advantage of the opportunity by hitting a floater in the lane with 0.7 seconds left to send the game into a second overtime.
Walters, who also was a standout on the school”s football team, had only one 3-pointer in the first half. McBrayer said he wasn”t sure Walters would play Friday because he was suffering from a stomach virus. Walters said he tried to settle his stomach before the game by drinking Sprite and Gatorade, eating some Saltines, and drinking a little Pepto Bismol. It took until the second half for the magical elixir to work, but it proved to be effective.
“After I saw my team needed me I sucked it up and just went out and played,” Walters said. “Coach put me in and told me just play your guts out and that it might be your last game.”
Smith was unstoppable in the second four-minute OT. He had two steals and scored on a variety of layups, runners, and jump shots.
Still, New Hope was in position to send the game to a third overtime. Walters hit 4 of 4 free throws to cut the Chargers” lead to 77-75 with 46.9 seconds remaining. But two missed free throws cost New Hope and allowed Smith to go back to the free-throw line with a chance to ice the game. Smith missed 2 of 3 free throws with 19.1 seconds to go after an apparent intentional foul was called.
Trailing 78-75, New Hope called a final timeout with 8.7 seconds to play after Walters was double-teamed with nowhere to go. Matt Thrash inbounded the ball to Brandon coming out of the timeout, but the senior”s 3-pointers fell just short of the rim.
The final result didn”t diminish McBrayer”s pride in his players for their effort.
“They have that fight in them, and they have had it all year,” McBrayer said. “Like I told them in the locker room, I could not be more proud of a bunch of kids than I was standing out there on that floor watching them put everything they had on the line to fight and claw to try to get to Jackson against one of the best teams in the state
“What else can you ask? They did it all night long. I couldn”t be more proud of a bunch of kids.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.