ALBANY -- This one hurt, the way all last-second losses hurt.
But it didn't hurt as much as it stung -- the kind of sting that lingers and swells the way confidence and character rise in a long and weathered season.
"I hope this shows us who we are,'' said Albany High coach Archie Chatmon, whose team almost pulled off the upset of the year Friday night before falling to Thomasville, 50-48, in the final seconds. "From this point on, we should know who we are and how we're supposed to play.''
Chatmon wasn't bitter about the loss. Instead, he was beaming about the way his kids played.
"It doesn't get any better than this, except a win,'' Chatmon said. "I couldn't be prouder of them. That's competing. We might go down, but we're going down swinging. That's what that was. It was two good teams scraping and fighting till the end. It was so good I almost turned into a fan (Friday night).''
In the end, it came down to Robert Carter making two game-winning free throws with 3.0 seconds left for Thomasville to escape with the win.
"That's a great team,'' said Thomasville coach Benjamin Tillman as he looked over to Albany. "We knew coming in it would be this kind of game. They are real disciplined. Archie Chatmon does an excellent job coaching them.''
Then he stopped for a second and thought about the game and its wild ending.
"What a game,'' Tillman said. "What a game.''
It came down to a single play at the end, a play Tillman designed for Carter. Albany, which trailed by 10 early in the third quarter, had come back to take a 42-40 lead with 4:50 left in the fourth when Tim Pierce hit a turnaround jumper in traffic. Then Thomasville took the lead back only to watch Pierce nail down two free throws with 12.3 seconds left to knot the score at 48-48.
Then came the final play.
"We had a play just for Robert (Carter),'' Tillman said. "We wanted him to take the last shot, but when he popped out from the screen he was grabbed. And he hit the free throws.''
Carter, a 6-foot-8 center, finished with 17 points, including a 3-pointer just before halftime that lifted Thomasville to a 25-17 lead.
"You can't blame anyone,'' Chatmon said of the final play. "I would have rather had him take a 15-foot shot instead of having him on the free throw line. He's deadly from there. But I can't fault anybody. We put a lot of pressure on them all night. Thomasville is a champion, and showed their pedigree. They played a great game.''
Carter went 4-for-4 from the free throw line, including a pair with 1:39 left that gave Thomasville a 47-44 lead, but Kenny Anderson made a steal and a drive for Albany to close to 47-46 with 55 seconds left, and after Thomasville's Justin Forbes went 1-for-2 from the line with 47 seconds left, Albany had a chance to win it.
Anderson missed a 3, but Pierce, a 6-foot guard, managed to grab the rebound against Thomasville's front line of Carter and Willie Clayton, who plays bigger than his 6-7 height. Pierce was fouled and dropped in his 23rd and 24th points of the night.
"Tim was Tim,'' Chatmon said. "That was the real Tim (Friday night). Wow, it's fun to watch him when he's playing like that.''
Pierce carried the Indians all night along with Anderson, who finished with 12 points and Larry Sanford, who scored 10. Clayton, who usually leads the Bulldogs, got into foul trouble early and spent part of the game on the bench before finishing with six points and seven rebounds. Thomasville had a huge performance from Carlton Butts, who scored 15 points and seemed to hurt the Indians at every turn.
He scored seven of Thomasville's first nine points to get the Bulldogs going, and then made one big play after another in the fourth. After Pierce hit his turnaround jumper to give Albany a 42-40 lead, Butts answered with a 3-pointer with 2:41 left to lift Thomasville to a 43-42 edge, then picked off a pass before tossing a highlight tape pass inside to Clayton, who dunked for a 45-42 lead.
Albany came back again and again, before falling just short.
That's why Chatmon took the loss so well. He knows what this game means to his program.
This was Albany making a statement in the region -- and even across the state -- against a Thomasville team that brought back the bulk of its stars from last year's state runner-up team, a Thomasville team that is now 19-3 and ranked third in the state poll.
The Bulldogs, who are 9-0 in the Region 1-AA race, have lost only to Class AAAA Bainbridge and Thomas County Central and Class AAA Westover. They haven't had anything resembling a close game in the Region 1-AA race other than their earlier meeting with Albany, which is in second in the region race at 7-3 and 12-9 for the season.
"I just hope we play like this (tonight) against Early County,'' Chatmon said. "This was a great game, and we just have to know this is the team that we are.''
THOMASVILLE GIRLS 61, ALBANY 21:
Albany's Squaws have lost four starters to knee injuries this year and are starting sophomores and freshmen down the stretch, and the youngsters were outmanned Friday against a Thomasville team that has now won 16 games in a row and has not had a close game in going unbeaten (9-0) in the Region 1-AA race.
Albany (4-13 and 1-6 in the region race) was led by Brianna Washington (8 points) Nakeidra Gervin (7 points) and Briana Williams (4 points). Thomasville was led by Carmonique Dawson (18 points) and Miracle Williams (12 points).