THOMASVILLE -- Bainbridge boys basketball coach Rickey McCullough knew the day had to come when his team wouldn't find itself on the wrong end of a close game gone array for the Bearcats in the final seconds.
And that day was Tuesday.
The Bearcats, whose three losses this season -- Coffee County, Cairo and Port St. Joe (Fla.) -- all either came at the buzzer or in the final seconds, finally got to experience the other side of the coin Tuesday with an 83-79 overtime win against Terrell County.
"We had it won, then we had it lost, then we came back to win it again," said McCullough, whose team improved to 7-3. "I'm just glad we finally came out on the other end of one of those."
The matchup also marked the first time all season that any of The Herald's Top 5 boys teams faced off -- and it came one day after Bainbridge was dropped from No. 3 to No. 4 in the poll in favor of the Greenwave, who took over the Bearcats' spot.
"It's the best game we've been a part of all year," said Greenwave coach John Davis, whose team fell to 6-2.
The win puts Bainbridge in the championship game tonight at 8:30 against Thomasville, while Terrell County will settle for the consolation game against Goose Creek, S.C., which won the state title in Class 4A last year.
Of course, determining which team fell where wasn't easily decided in this one.
Down by six points with less than two minutes to go, Terrell County executed its pressure-defense set and forced the Bearcats into several turnovers that allowed the Greenwave to creep back in the game.
Then, with less than six seconds to play, Greenwave star point guard Terel Hall, who finished the game with 17 points to lead his team, was fouled and sent to the line with Terrell County down just three points.
The scenario, however, was all too familiar to McCullough.
"Against Port St. Joe on Saturday, I didn't foul and make them earn it -- and it cost me," said McCullough, reflecting on the loss over the weekend that featured a buzzer beater by Port St. Joe from 35 feet out to tie it and send the game into OT, where the Bearcats eventually lost. "And this time -- doing the right thing by fouling -- almost bit me in the butt again."
Hall sank the first free throw to pull Terrell within two points, but missed the second -- unintentionally, according to Davis -- as the ball rimmed out and found its way into the hands of Alre'K Brown.
Brown then tipped it in for what turned into a 3-point play with less than 3 seconds to go.
"I wanted Terel to make it, then we were gonna foul and come back and try to hit a last-second shot," Davis said. "But we just got lucky, I guess."
McCullough, meanwhile, couldn't believe his team's luck.
"I sure enough thought it had backfired on me," he said.
And in the early parts of overtime, it surely looked like it would.
Terrell County sprinted out to a 72-66 lead early in the four-minute overtime period, but Bainbridge rallied behind James Hudson, who sank a field goal to calm his team down. The Bearcats then followed that with four straight free throws to tie the game.
After a back-and-forth battle in the final few minutes, the outcome was eventually determined by turnovers and missed free throws. The Greenwave -- who Davis says missed "something like 20 free throws" -- turned the ball over on three straight possessions down the stretch, the last of which resulted in a loose-ball foul on Hall. Bainbridge sank a free throw, and Markez Dotson knocked down a putback to increase the Bearcats' lead to 81-76.
Terrell County eventually got back to within three points and had a chance to tie the game, but a 3-point attempt by Hall fell short.
Dotson finished with 14 points, while Brown and Brian Browner added 10 each for the Greenwave.
Bainbridge, meanwhile, had four players in double figures, including Devon Baulkman with a game-high 25, followed by Justin Harris (17), Shawn Samuels (14) and Rohan Gaines (11).
Davis said while he hates to lose, his guys felt "pretty good" walking away from the game considering Bainbridge is a much larger Class AAAA school, compared to the Greenwave (Class A).
"That's the way it's supposed to be -- a bigger school beating a smaller one," Davis said. "So we feel pretty good about being able to push them to the wire. Plus, it was our first close game of the season and I feel great about the fact we didn't give up when we could've there toward the end (of regulation)."
McCullough, meanwhile, was just happy to survive -- for a change.
"This is the first close one we've won like that," he said. "I hope it helps our confidence going forward that we can, in fact, win those close ball games."
Thomasville Times-Enterprise sports editor Clint Thompson contributed to this report