Thomasville’s Greg Wimberly, left, gets a hug from Willie Clayton after Wimberly hit the game-winner. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — It slipped, slipped right out of Greg Wimberly’s hands.
And then slipped right into the basket.
That’s how Thomasville beat Albany High’s Indians Friday night at Darton College, with a drive by Wimberly, who admitted the ball slipped from his hands just as he banked in a shot with 5.4 seconds left to lift Thomasville to a 37-36 win against The Herald’s No. 2 team, which lost, despite leading, 36-32, with 41 seconds left.
“I was surprised I got the ball,’’ Wimberly said. “I thought (Trey Gosier) would take the shot. He’s our best shooter, and when he passed the ball to me I was surprised.’’
He didn’t have time to think.
“When I went up the ball kind of slipped from my hands,’’ he said. “I was just hoping it would go in. The Lord put that shot in.’’
It hit the bottom of the basket — right there in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Darton College, where the Thomasville fans broke out in pandemonium while Albany tried to regroup. Larry Sanford, whose 3-pointer sent last week’s Albany-Cook game into overtime, fired a shot from the outside. But his shot betrayed him this time, and Albany fell.
“I thought he was going to make it,’’ said Wimberly, who was guarding Sanford. “He pulled up and I tried to get a hand in front of him. I was shocked he didn’t make it.’’
The difference at the end?
“Our energy,’’ Thomasville coach Ben Tillman said.
Energy, some turnovers and a huge 3 from junior Devonta Wyche, who bagged a trey with 30 seconds left to cut the lead to 36-35 for his only points in the game.
“It was the biggest three points of the game,’’ Tillman said.
Albany High then turned the ball over with a pass out of bounds, and Wimberly and the Bulldogs slipped by the Indians.
Wimberly finished the game with eight points — all in the fourth quarter.
It was heartbreaking for Albany High, which lost its only game this season when Westover’s Dequan Green hit a 3 at the buzzer two weeks ago. Now the Indians, ranked No. 9 in the Class AA state poll, are 10-2 with two gut-wrenching losses.
This hurt more because it was a critical Region 1-AA game. Thomasville, which lost to Early County earlier this season, is 2-1 in the region, and Albany High is 3-1, but must play at Early County on Tuesday.
“They’re just better than us,’’ Albany High coach Archie Chatmon said of Thomasville. “The best team won. “We turned it over at the end of the game. We gave them the ball, and you can’t do that against a good team. At the end of the game, Thomasville made plays and we didn’t.’’
Thomasville (7-4) was led by Willie Clayton, who scored 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but Albany High junior Tyrone Culbreth answered with his best game of the season, dropping in 15 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking two shots.
The Indians needed him on a night when neither team could find the basket. Herald Super 6er Tim Pierce, who took a hard fall and left the game for about four minutes, didn’t score until there was 1:01 left in the game and finished with just four points. Sanford scored 11.
Chatmon has a policy of not allowing his players to speak to the media, but their heartbroken expressions as they left the floor said it all.
Thomasville, meanwhile, celebrated wildly.
"This is the kind of game that can really help us,'' Tillman said. "Albany is one of the top teams in the state. We just stayed strong. We were getting shots, but they just weren't falling. But we stayed strong and our press helped us get the ball at the end. The difference at the end was our energy and our full court pressure.''
And a shot that slipped in