East Hamilton blitzed visiting Central, 24-7, in the first quarter to prove the Hurricanes were carrying over momentum from Thursday’s big win over Howard into Friday’s “homecoming” game.
Central coach Rick Rogers then switched from a zone defense to man-to-man.
And, man, did that knock the Hurricanes out of their early rhythm.
The Purple Pounders rallied from the slow start and eventually pulled out a hard-fought, 50-47, victory in a thrilling District 6-AA battle when senior Colton Morgan hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 10.2 seconds left to silence a large, partisan crowd at East Hamilton School.
Both teams missed free throws after Morgan’s clutch jumper from the right corner and Hurricanes junior Dominic Powell’s long 3 was off the mark as the final buzzer sounded.
“(Robert) Cobb drove the lane and threw me the pass,” Morgan said, “and I knew I would be open in the corner. I wasn’t thinking, I just let it roll as coach (Rick) Rogers always says and was just hoping it would go in.”
Morgan’s shot, his only 3 in the first of two games between the rivals in 10 days, hit nothing but net.
“It’s memorable,” he said. “I’ll never forget that shot as long as I live.”
Rogers saw – and felt – it coming.
“I saw that look in his eyes when he caught it and just knew he was going to knock it down,” Rogers said. “He’s played in this district for four years. Playing Brainerd, Howard and Tyner gets the nerves out of you. He’s a well-seasoned player.”
Less than 24 hours after beating Howard, 49-46, for the first time in eight tries, the Hurricanes (15-8, 7-4) hammered the Pounders with a 16-2 run to start the game and led 24-7 on the strength of six 3s after eight minutes of action.
Kenny Bunton started the Hurricanes’ scoring with a routine shot. Then Bunton, Cody Knox, Dominic Powell, Tre Herndon and Powell again all drained 3s from the right side against an ineffective zone to open a stunning 16-2 lead that had the estimated 1,000 fans rocking in the aisles.
When Herndon and Powell capped East Hamilton’s first-quarter scoring, the lead was 17 points.
Rogers had seen enough, junked the zone and ordered his players to man up.
That changed everything.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see they got 18 points on 3s and say, ‘Hey, let’s try something else,’ ” Rogers said.
Central (13-6, 6-5) woke up offensively and started contesting East Hamilton shots. The Pounders went on a 19-2 run and tied the game at 26 on Dewuan Swafford driving layup off a Hurricanes turnover at the other end.
Despite being outscored, 19-5, in the second quarter, Bunton’s 3 with 11.2 seconds left gave East Hamilton a 29-26 lead at intermission.
“It’s ironic,” said East Hamilton coach Michael Stone, who drew a technical foul in the third quarter with his team trailing 37-35. “Most teams in our area have to play us zone because they have a hard time playing us in man. Howard is the only team that consistently has stayed with us in man, but we handled that OK (on Thursday).
“Tonight, they were really physical with the hands out front and we struggled to adjust to that. It was hard for our kids to get in a rhythm, we started turning the ball over in the second quarter and that led to some easy baskets for them. Theyfound a rhythm and the rest is history.”
The Pounders scored the first five points of the third quarter to grab a 31-29 lead with 4:58 on the clock and had a shaky two-point advantage going into the fourth.
Central’s aggressive man defense held the Hurricanes to 11 combined points in the middle two quarters.
Stone was slapped with the technical 57 seconds into the final period. Morgan hit one of two free throws, Cobb tipped in David Holley’s missed shot and Central’s lead was 40-35.
Jerome Stewart’s 3 gave Central a 43-37 lead, its biggest of the game.
Knox converted a three-point play 16 seconds later.
Holley, returning to the lineup after missing two games – back-to-back losses to Tyner and Hixson by a combined 11 points – dropped a 3-bomb on the Hurricanes with 4:39 left.
Herndon countered with a 3 at the 2:37 mark and Powell’s jumper from the left wing pulled the Hurricanes to within 46-45 with 1:55 showing.
Swafford hit a free throw. With 54.8 seconds remaining, the Hurricanes’ Ladarius Watkins drove the lane for a layup and the game was tied at 47.
The Pounders got into front court and spread the floor.
Seconds ticked away.
Cobb drove the lane, dished to Morgan in the corner and memories were made.
Another thing that will stick with Central players for some time is what Rogers told them at the mid-game break.
“I told them I think it’s harder on the home team in this situation,” the veteran coach said. “They’ve got their band here, they’ve got a dance after the game, they’ve got all their fans here, they’re all shaking their rattles and screaming for them and that’s putting more pressure on them to maintain this lead than it is on us to come back.”
And then Rogers threw in the kicker.
“I told them to come out of the locker room and give me the lead – it doesn’t have to be much – in the third quarter and we’ll get into that fourth quarter with a chance to win this game,” he said. “And that’s what happened.”
Holley, who scored 27 and 30 points in consecutive games prior to being forced out of the lineup with back problems, led the Pounders with 15 points. Morgan finished with eight.
Powell paced the Hurricanes with 14 points, but was bummed about the outcome.
“I think this was our toughest loss of the season,” he said, “especially coming off the win we had (Thursday) and playing the way we did in the first quarter tonight. Them switching from zone to man got to us. We expected zone all night and didn’t prep for man. Every time coach Stone scouted them they were always in a zone.”
Stone was not disappointed in his team’s overall effort, but the loss stung just the same because of the superb turnout on the team’s first homecoming game.
“This was fun,” he said. “We’re cross-town teams and playing in a packed gymnasium. This is good for basketball in Chattanooga. It wasn’t the prettiest basketball game, but the close game kept the crowd in it and both schools were well-represented and you couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere.
“That adds to the guys’ disappointment because they certainly wanted to win for our fans who were really cheering them on.”
East Hamilton girls 47, Central 36: The Lady Hurricanes (17-8, 11-0) rolled along by winning their sixth consecutive game and stretching their District 6-AA lead over Howard to two full games.
After scoring just 10 points in the first half against Howard on Thursday, the Lady Hurricanes built a 24-15 halftime lead over the Lady Purple Pounders (8-11, 5-6). East Hamilton stretched the lead to 35-19 after three quarters, rendering meaningless Central’s 17-10 edge in the final period.
Kaylee Moon led East Hamilton with 12 points.
Madison Rogers, daughter of Central boys coach Rick Rogers, had 10 points, including three 3s, to lead the Lady Pounders.
Baseball field fundraising: Between the two games on Friday, the “Caine Raisers” presented the school with a check for $16,500 to go toward constructing a baseball field for coach Steve Garland’s squad.
The check pushes the total fundraising effort to $146,500. The expected revenue needed to build the field is approximately $300,000, Garland said, and the goal is to have it built in time for the 2014 season.
Central 6 9 4 17 – 36
East Hamilton 11 13 13 10 – 47
Central (36) – Jones 2, Madison Rogers 10, Davis 2, Powell 2, Sylman 8, Conley 9, Mitchell 4, McReynolds.
East Hamilton (47) – J. Caudle 9, Harp 8, Woods 4, K. Caudle 5, Zackery 2, Kaylee Moon 12, Giles 6, Wood 1.
3-Point Goals – Central 3 (Rogers 3); East Hamilton 4 (Giles 2, K. Caudle, J. Caudle).
Central 7 19 11 13 – 50
East Hamilton 24 5 6 12 – 47
Central (50) – Swafford 9, Cobb 5, Hill, Hayes 8, Morgan 8, Smith, David Holley 15, Stewart 5, Tiller.
East Hamilton (47) – Thompson 2, Dominic Powell 14, Kenny Bunton 10, Herndon 9, Knox 6, Dennis 4, Watkins 2, Griffith.
3-Point Goals – Central 6 (Hayes 2, Holley, Stewart, Morgan, Swafford); East Hamilton 7 (Herndon 3, Bunton 2, Powell 1, Knox 1).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)