ALBANY -- It’s not the first time it has happened this season, but this one may be the most painful.
Tuesday night Region 1-AAAA co-leader Westover hosted last-place Americus-Sumter and, as expected, built a double-digit lead.
But just like in previous games this year the lead did not last. The Patriots usually have just enough to overcome their complacency and still pull out a win. Tuesday, however, was a different story as the Panthers clawed their way back by knocking down big shot after big shot in the final minutes to upset The Herald No. 2 Patriots on the road 59-58.
“We just starting shooting the ball well,” Americus head coach Ernest Scott said. “Mike Russell, D. J. (Harris) got going and they just starting knocking down shots.”
Russell and Harris both hit 3-pointers down the stretch that solidified the comeback and enabled the Panthers (8-10) to knot the game at 58-58. Then, with about 20 seconds left in the game, things took a bizarre turn.
Stalling briefly in order to get the last shot, Westover’s Michael Green dribbled up the court and passed the ball to the wingman. With no place to go he tried to pass the ball back to Green, but the ball went backcourt. Realizing time was soon to expire, Green shielded Americus’ James Prince from retrieving the ball but was whistled for a foul.
After some initial confusion about what exactly was being called the referees conferred with each other and the foul was upheld. A chorus of boos immediately rang out in the Boston Garden as fans were in dismay at what just happened.
But the game would not be won unless Prince, who had not scored a point all game, could knock down at least one of his two free throws. After missing the first, Prince fixed his eyes firmly on the basket, made a few bounces and rattled in the second free throw.
“I was very nervous,” Prince admitted. “I just felt like Jesus was going to bless me during the game, and I missed one and hit the second. Every day (in practice) we preach fight and that’s what we did -- we fought.”
With only 1.2 seconds remaining Westover attempted a desperation 3-pointer from half court that came nowhere near the rim, and just like that the Patriots lost the lead and, ultimately and far worse, the game.
“They hit some big shots, some big threes, but we made too many turnovers,” Westover head coach Dallis Smith said. “I usually don’t say anything about the referees, but that was a tough call they made and one we ultimately have to deal with.”
The Patriots committed 18 turnovers in the game. Combine that with the Panthers’ newfound ability to make shots in the clutch, and Tuesday’s comeback quickly became not a matter of if but when.
“It was exciting, but as coaches we cannot get overly excited because then our players tend to make mistakes,” Scott said when asked about the last minute of the game. “This was a big win for the players because my understanding is (Americus) has not beaten Westover at home in quite some time.
“Hopefully we can take some of this momentum and intensity into Friday night’s ballgame against Worth County.”
Russell and Harris finished with 17 and 14 points, respectively. Juwan High added 11 points and JaMier Crumbley had eight points.
Alec Williams’ 15 points was top for Westover, while C.J. Davis scored 14 points and Dunavon Robinson contributed 12 points. Green had seven points.