ALBANY — Marquin Jones spent the last three years in the crowd during Randolph-Clay’s basketball seasons, deciding to concentrate on school work rather than his jump shot.
On Monday, the senior Red Devil made up for lost time and stunned host Albany High with the biggest shot of his career.
With 4.5 seconds left in Monday’s opener at the U-Save-It Christmas Classic, Jones drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to give The Herald No. 4 Red Devils a stunning 62-61 victory against Albany, which led by as many as 15 points with 6:44 left in the game.
Jones, who scored all of his eight points in the fourth quarter, was huge in the closing minutes as the Red Devils chipped away at Albany’s lead, but the 6-foot-2 forward saved his biggest shot for last.
After Albany’s Malik Dungee hit 1-of-2 free throws with 12.5 seconds left to give the Indians a 61-59 lead, Randolph-Clay point guard Cornelius Bennett drove the length of the floor before kicking it out to a wide open Jones.
“Coach said he needed a big play,” Jones said. “We have a good point guard who got the ball out and pushed it down the middle. He dished it to me, so I had to make a big play. When I had the ball, I knew I was going to make it.”
Bennett dribbled down the court in the final seconds without resistance from Albany’s defense and took two dribbles into the paint before hearing Jones call for the ball over his left shoulder.
“(Jones) said ‘kick,’ so I kicked it out to him, and when he shot it I had no doubt he was going to hit it,” Bennett said. “All I could say was, ‘Good shot, good shot.’ ”
Dungee threw up a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Indians, but it was nowhere close as Albany (6-3) had its three-game winning streak snapped. Indians coach Archie Chatmon was left shaking his head following the game after watching his team get outscored 25-9 in the final 6:30.
“We just didn’t handle the ball. The ball game came down to turnovers,” said Chatmon, whose Indians had nine turnovers in the fourth quarter. “We had more turnovers than baskets in the fourth quarter. … We allowed them to do what they do best, and you can’t win when you do that.
“It was something we could have controlled, which is what hurts about this. For some reason we forgot how to beat the press.”
A free throw from Albany’s Dezmond Newberry, who scored a game-high 21 points and was a perfect 9-for-9 from the field, with 6:44 left gave the Indians a 52-37 lead — an advantage that seemed insurmountable in a game where the Red Devils (5-2) were having trouble getting shots to fall and weren’t getting any help from the officials.
But then the lead started to crumble.
Randolph-Clay’s Kwemente Parker began the Red Devils late run with a 3-pointer to cut Albany’s lead to 10 points. Parker scored 10 of his 16 points in the final quarter, including a steal and easy lay-in with 1:21 to pull the Red Devils to within three points.
Herald Super 6er Gary McCrae, who led Randolph-Clay with 19 points, cut the lead to one point with a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds left, and then Dungee missed the second of his two free throws on the other end to set up Jones’ game winner.
Randolph-Clay coach Michael Hoffpauir said he initially wanted Bennett to continue driving on the final play and get to the rim for an easy lay-in to send the game into overtime.
Jones was just a couple of feet in front of the Red Devils bench when he let the game-winning trey leave his hands.
“At that time I really just wanted to get the two, but my man knocked it down so I guess I have to live with that,” Hoffpauir said. “I’m hoping it’s going in. It looked like it was on track. It looked like a good shot, and I’m just glad it dropped.”
It was the book end of a comeback that the Red Devils desperately needed after a tough loss to Herald No. 3 Westover on Saturday.
But for the first three quarters, it looked like the Red Devils were going to leave the U-Save-It Classic 0-2 after entering as one of the most talented squads in the 12-team field.
“We were down so big, and things just weren’t going our way,” Hoffpauir said. “It was one of those games where we had to be tough in adversity because we weren’t getting a lot of calls and the ball wasn’t going through the hoop.”
Bennett and his teammates, however, found a way to fight back.
“Coach just told us to not give up and to go out there and play hard,” said Bennett, Randolph-Clay’s star running back on the football team. “We have been coming back from situations like this from the beginning of the season. We just had to keep playing and working hard.”