Herald Super 6er Jermaine Hartsfield, above, had a double-double Saturday in the Eagles' first-round state win -- despite suffering from the flu --- while teammate Jaquan Williams overcame adversity of his own to lead Mitchell with 23 points just hours after attending his grandfather's funeral.
CAMILLA — If you’re a Mitchell County Eagle, you better not miss a free throw.
They rarely did Saturday night in the opening round of the GHSA Class A boys basketball playoffs during a 79-64 win against Greenville High. The score and the Patriots’ 13-13 record didn’t tell the story.
Mitchell County led by as many as 15 in the first half before finding itself trailing, 63-60, in the fourth quarter after Greenville’s Jonterrious Parham, who led the Patriots with 16 points, knocked down his fifth 3-pointer of the game with 7:48 to play. Jermaine Hartsfield, a Herald Super 6er who had the flu, hit a jumper to pull the Eagles within one at 63-62.
And then the free throws came.
“We practice it every day,” Mitchell County head coach Kenneth Harris said. “When you miss a free throw, you run (or do) pushups. We try to put them under pressure every day in practice. It came true (Saturday) night.”
The Eagles, Class A’s No. 6 seed, went 31-for-36 at the foul line, including 11-for-11 in the first quarter, and didn’t miss one in the final three minutes of the game. After Parham’s three with 7:48 left, Greenville didn’t make another field goal the rest of the game and scored just four points in the fourth quarter.
“We just got laid back (after building a 15-point first half lead),” Eagles senior Joquil Chester said. “That’s all it was.”
Chester hit a huge three with 3:22 to play to give Mitchell (25-4) a 67-63 lead. Then Jaquan Williams went 6-for-6 at the line down the stretch and finished with a game-high 23 points with a heavy heart. He attended his grandfather’s funeral earlier in the day.
“I just had to put it (in the back of) my head,” Williams said. “He’s in a better place.”
Williams, who shot under 70 percent from the charity stripe for the year, finished the game 12-for-12 at the free throw line and willed his team to an Elite Eight appearance Wednesday across the state at Class A No. 3 seed Portal.
“It was a playoff game and it was win or go home,” Williams said. “We ain’t ready to go home yet.”
Mitchell County outscored Greenville, 19-4, in the final period after the game was all square at 60-60 at the end of the third. The Patriots, the No. 11 seed from Class A’s power rankings, hit 12 3-pointers on the night and scored 24 third-quarter points after trailing 43-36 at half.
But it was the free throws and foul trouble that did in Greenville, which was led by the McKee brothers — Jamile and Jamal. Sophomore Jamal McKee hit four first-half 3s but didn’t score in the second half and finished with 12 points. Senior Jamile McKee, who averaged a team-high 17 points per game, was held to seven.
“Greenville was a heck of a team,” Harris said. “They were men. That’s one of the best teams we’ve seen all year.”
Jamal fouled out with 1:46 to play and Jamile played with four fouls the entire fourth quarter.
“First of all, I never expected anybody to shoot 36 free throws in a state playoff game,” Greenville coach Robert Ford said. “It is what it is. Can’t cry about that, but I would have preferred the referees let us play a little bit harder.
“You foul four kids out of a playoff game in the Sweet 16, it doesn’t sit well.”
Hartsfield scored 14 points for the Eagles and added 10 rebounds. Bruce Bryant scored 11 points, while Brian Peoples scored eight points and battled all night in the paint.
One thing is for certain after Saturday. There won’t be many sprints or pushups because of missed free throws at practice Monday, especially not for Williams.
“When I went in (the locker room), the first thing out of (Williams’) mouth was, ‘Coach, I didn’t miss any,’ ” Harris said.