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Upset of the year!: Lewis sinks 3 at buzzer as Dougherty stuns Liberty County

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

HINESVILLE -- Joshua Lewis is going to be the most popular freshman at Dougherty High School today.

Check that. He'll be the most popular student -- period.

The 5-foot-9 shooting guard came off the bench late Tuesday night in the second round of the GHSA Class AAA state tournament to nail two 3-pointers, including the buzzer-beating game-winner as the Trojans shocked Liberty County -- the previous one-loss, No. 5-ranked team in the state -- 59-58.

"(Dougherty coach Donald Poole) gave me the green light (to shoot)," Lewis said. "He wanted me to play. He tells me it's about 90 percent heart and 10 percent talent. He said, 'Don't be scared to take the shot.' "

He wasn't.

Lewis' rainbow bomb closed the Panthers' season at 27-2 and ended the stellar careers of Liberty seniors Jordan McRae and Rion Brown.

"There was a lot of teary eyes," Panthers coach Willie Graham said. "It's not the ending they wanted or had worked all year for. But we told them, 'When you go on the basketball court, two things can happen, and one of them is good and one of them is bad."

With Brown, signed to play next season at the University of Miami, playing ill with a strep throat, the onus for Liberty's production fell on Tennessee-bound McRae.

McRae answered the call with 37 points -- 21 coming in a terrific second-half effort -- to go along with 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocks but it wasn't enough to avoid the upset. Brown, who prior to the game had a 101-degree fever, finished with 12 points with just four rebounds and one assist.

"Players of (McRae's) caliber have to step up," Graham said. "He knew his partner was down. Rion gave us a valiant effort, he was out there battling as hard as he can battle because they understand what's on the line and they want it."

Arabian Williams led the way for Dougherty with 19 points, followed by 18 from Macarthur Gaines and 10 from Chris Holmes. Lewis finished with just six -- but boy, were they a big six.

Dougherty jumped on Liberty early. Using a superior effort and hustle, the Trojans used a rebounding advantage to take a 10-point lead at halftime. Dougherty outrebounded Liberty, 20-13, in the first half and finished the game with a 35-31 advantage.

"We don't have a lot of big-time stars but we just go out, play ball and make everybody else play fundamental basketball," Poole said.

After trailing, 35-25, at halftime, Brown led the charge to get the Panthers back in the ball game, scoring 14 points in the third quarter on a variety of drives to the basket to trim the Trojan lead to just three entering the fourth quarter.

With the game tied with less than two minutes into the final period, McRae found Greg Richardson underneath to give the Panthers their first lead since the early stages of the first quarter.

Despite the Panthers' run, Poole said his Trojans were never on the ropes.

"We just continued to play hard, that's what we can do best," Poole said. "We knew they were strong we just did what we do, play assignment ball."

With the game tied at 56-56, McRae found Richardson under the basket who scored while drawing a foul with 20 seconds to play.

Richardson missed the ensuing free throw leading to Lewis' game-winner moments later.

"We're just glad to be on the other side of one of these for a change," Poole said.

Dougherty now advances to the Elite Eight on Friday face the winner of today's game between LaGrange and city rival Monroe, which is part of a doubleheader with the Monroe-LaGrange girls game earlier in the day.

Monroe beat Dougherty twice during the regular season and then again in the region tournament -- the latter loss coming by just four points, 55-51.