Basketball in District 6-AA has been wild and wooly for years.
The script held true Tuesday night when East Hamilton played at Tyner in a key district showdown.
It was a high school basketball game that included an East Hamilton basket being wiped off when none of the three officials saw the ball fall through the net, one ref telling a mouthy fan to shut up, and an awakening that enabled Tyner to pull out a 63-56 home-court victory and wrestle third place away from the Hurricanes.
“I thought some calls changed the complexion of the game,” East Hamilton coach Michael Stone said. “I liken it to the lights going out in the Super Bowl. Sometimes external factors change momentum and there was a huge momentum swing early in the third quarter.”
East Hamilton (15-9, 7-5) used a 14-6 run to build a 31-21 halftime lead behind nine points each by Kenny Bunton and Ladarius Watkins.
But a different Rams team came out of the locker room after intermission.
“In our last seven games we came out (in the third quarter) playing like gangbusters,” Rams coach Gerald Harris said, and the third quarter has been our best friend. I challenged the guys because I was upset with their (first half) attitude and how they approached the deficit we were in. I told them we’re going to get back in this game by playing defense like we can do.”
That’s exactly what Tyner did. It turned up the full-court pressure on the Hurricanes, who are trying desperately to cling to their first top-four regular-season finish in the short four-year history of the program.
While the Rams bulldozed East Hamilton for 14 points, one of five Rams seniors being honored on Senior Night, the Hurricanes had only two by Cody Knox. That spurt produced the Rams’ first lead of the game at 35-33.
Then, unexpectedly, the phantom goal took center stage.
Knox, who finished with a game-high 22 points that included four 3s, drove the lane for a layup and was fouled on the play.
He went to the foul line, thinking all the while his three-play could give East Hamilton a 36-35 lead.
However, the goal was negated.
Referee Jeff Wilkerson, who initially made a “count the basket” gesture, went to the scorer’s table and asked a public address announcer, a clock operator and one scorer from each school, “Did the ball go in?”
The reply was, “Yes.”
Shot was good. One free throw for Knox.
Uproarious debate ensued.
Officials conferred again.
Wilkerson returned to the scorer’s table. “Did the ball go in?” he asked a second time.
A less than emphatic response this time was a collective, “I don’t know.”
Officials reconvened on the court.
Wilkerson’s final decision: no basket, two free throws.
Stone was startled by the call, argued vehemently and eventually drew the technical foul.
A few moments later, the official returned to the scorer’s table a third time and chastised the four people sitting there about their “indecision” on his did-the-ball-go-in question to them.
A television cameraman’s video and East Hamilton’s video confirmed the shot was good. Those tapes also show Wilkerson initially calling the shot good.
“I couldn’t be more disappointed for our guys,” Stone said.
Knox made the second of two tosses and Tyner’s lead was 35-34 with 3:11 left in the quarter.
At the other end, Bridgeman also made one free throw from the technical and the Rams (15-6, 8-4) hit the Hurricanes with a 10-0 spurt and grabbed a 45-34 lead with 1:40 left in the controversial period.
“I didn’t see the ball,” Harris said of the disputed basket, “because I thought Bristen was in perfect charge position. The thing was, none of the officials saw it, if it did go in. Did it go in? I came out and said it was no shot. I looked at my assistants and they said it didn’t go in.
“Sometimes you have those plays. It is what it is.”
Bridgeman’s layup capped the Rams’ 10-0 spree and during that time East Hamilton missed several shots, drew three fouls and fell 11 points behind.
Tyner’s DeQwan Hardwick made a three-point play preceding Bridgeman’s layup as the run wound down.
After regrouping, the Hurricanes scored 10 unanswered points and pulled within 46-44 with 5:43 remaining in the game.
When Knox picked up his fourth foul with 5:01 left, Tyner’s Jemicah Bowman hit two free throws, freshman Devante Jones, who drilled a long 3 as time expired in the third quarter, hit one and Sadik Spence added one and the Rams were up, 52-46, with 3:56 remaining.
Knox’s left-wing 3 with 1:26 on the clock trimmed Tyner’s lead to 58-54, but the Rams used 5-of-6 free throws in the final 43.5 seconds to preserve the victory.
“This was a big win,” Bridgeman said. “We decided to come out after halftime and work hard to win the game. We play the best defense in Chattanooga and once we locked in we got good ball pressure and a lot of turnovers.”
That’s what Harris likes to see from his squad.
“When you play defense and make steals it makes the game a lot easier,” he said. “We didn’t have to run a whole lot of plays and it got contagious. Then, everybody wants to play.
“We did a good job on the help side when Cody started penetrating and Alex (Watkins), although he didn’t have a good offensive game, he altered a lot of shots and got some rebounds.”
Bridgeman led the Rams with 15 points and Spence and Bowman each scored 13.
The Rams, who hit 20-of-28 free throws, have two regular-season district games remaining with Red Bank and East Ridge in their chase with Brainerd (9-4) for second place.
Howard leads the district standings with a 9-2 record.
Watkins finished 14 for the Hurricanes, who have two district games with East Ridge and Central in their battle to claim at least a fourth-place finish for district tournament seeding purposes.
“We didn’t get the victory we wanted, but we didn’t go away either,” a subdued Stone said. “We kept battling back. Our guys could have folded and felt like they were being picked on, but they kept playing hard.”
The Hurricanes made 10-of-19 free throws, but just 4-of-10 in the fourth quarter.
East Hamilton girls 38, Tyner 32: The Lady Hurricanes struggled with leading scorer Jessica Caudle playing sick – she threw up on the sideline in the second quarter – before winning their 12th district game without a loss and clinching the regular-season title and No. 1 seed for the tournament to be played at Hixson later this month.
East Hamilton (18-8, 12-0), which has captured the district tournament and regular-season title in over the past two seasons, won its seventh straight game despite a 19-point second half against the Lady Rams, who trailed by 25-22 after three quarters.
Caudle returned to play midway through the third quarter and finished with a team-high 12 points. Alexius Zackery added 10 points.
Kennedi Speights paced Tyner (6-15, 4-8) with nine points.
East Hamilton 9 10 6 13 – 38
Tyner 10 7 5 10 – 32
East Hamilton (38) – Jessica Caudle 12, Harp 6, Woods 2, K. Caudle 4, McCollum, Zackery 10, Moon 4, Giles, Wood.
Tyner (32) – McElvain, Turner 3, Montgomery 1, Roberts 4, Parks 4, Hines 7, Smith 7, Speights 9.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton none; Tyner none.
East Hamilton 17 14 10 15 – 56
Tyner 12 9 27 15 – 63
East Hamilton (56) – Lowery 2, Powell 1, Bunton 9, Herndon 4, Griffith 2, Knox 22, Dennis, Ladarius Watkins 14
Tyner (63) – Sadik Spence 13, D. Rollins 2, L. Rollins 4, Jemicah Bowman 13, Bristen Bridgeman 15, Watkins 8, Strickland, Hardwick 4, Jones 4.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 6 (Knox 4, Bunton, Powell); Tyner 2 (Bowman, Jones).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)