ALBANY — Albany High School coach Archie Chatmon stood courtside, smiled, then shook is head.
The way Friday night’s late game with Cedar Grove finished, it’s no wonder Chatmon doesn’t have any hair.
His Indians finally put away pesky Cedar Grove, stealing a 66-65 overtime victory in the U-Save-It Christmas Classic in a game where Saints coach James Martin grumbled about the tight officiating.
Nevertheless, when Cedar Grove’s Makale Carter’s potential game-winning basket bounced off the rim and both teams scrambled for the loose ball as time expired, Chatmon could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“That’s the kind of game me and Coach Martin have played in for many years,” Chatmon said. “I’ve battled him for many years. But my goodness, they were not going away.”
It appeared the Indians had put the game away in regulation. Malik Dungee sank a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 57-54. However, Cedar Grove’s Kenneth Lewis drilled a 3-point basket from atop the key to tie the game with four seconds left, sending it into overtime.
Albany (5-2) forced three turnovers in overtime and took a six-point advantage at 65-59 on a lay-in from Tyler Cheese. For the most part, it seemed the Indians finally had room to breathe.
But Cedar Grove’s Christopher Frederick buried a 3-point basket with 55 seconds left to trim the deficit to 66-63. Albany tried to burn some time off the clock but seconds after the Indians crossed halfcout, Cedar Grove’s trap created a turnover.
Carter’s 3-point attempt with 36 seconds left bounced off the rim and Albany grabbed the loose ball. The Saints then fouled Dungee at midcourt.
The senior missed the first of two free throws, then sank the second with 19 seconds left to make it 66-62. But the Saints were determined to make a comeback.
After inbounding the ball, Lewis drilled another 3-pointer with nine seconds left to make it 66-65. Then things got more entertaining. Miscommunication on Albany High’s inbounds pass sent the ball sailing out of bounds at midcourt, giving the ball back to Cedar Grove. That’s when Carter’s game-winning attempt failed, igniting a celebration from the home-standing Indian fans.
“I looked up and thought, ‘What is it going to take to get rid of these guys?’ ” Chatmon said. “I asked the guys after the game ‘What we did we learn from the game?’ People always say you learn from losses, but I believe you can learn from a win, too. I think we learned something (Friday).”
It was the first loss of the season for powerful Cedar Grove (6-1), which is no stranger to postseason basketball. Martin was upset with the questionable officiating that he said took away his team’s athleticism.
“That was a slugfest that we lost in the middle of the ring,” he said. “We are a much better team than what we were allowed to show.”
The game was by far the best of the day with the two trading leads throughout regulation. Albany built a 10-point second quarter lead at 32-22 only to watch the Saints roar back and take the lead.
Chatmon said he believes his team grew up in the late game.
“Everybody around here is getting better,” he said. “We’re getting better and we’ve got individuals who are improving, which is the next step to improving as a team. I told our guys that we cannot afford to get left behind.”
Cheese led the Indians with 17 points, while Dungee added 14. Jordan Young, Dezmond Newberry and Javier Coley all finished with nine points.
Cedar Grove was led by Benjy Parrish’s 12 points and Frederick’s 11.