Chris Walton's name very rarely makes the headlines and he's never scored the winning points in a high school basketball game.
He only scored six points on Monday night at Howard's Henry Bowles Gymnasium, but it was a key rebound late and two free throws that followed lifted the Hustlin' Tigers to a come-from-behind 61-58 victory over the DeKalb County Tigers in a thrilling boys sectional contest.
Howard advances to next week's state tournament in Murfreesboro with a record of 27-5 while DeKalb's season ends with 30 wins and seven defeats.
Sonni Fullilove nailed a 3 at the end of the third quarter to give the visitors their biggest lead at 51-43 when the fourth quarter began, but Howard opened the final stanza with a 9-0 run in the first two minutes to regain the lead and it was a battle the rest of the way.
A drive by Lorenzo McCauley and two free throws by Shalique Cameron gave Howard a 56-53 lead with 1:49 to play before Lucas Phillips got the Tigers back to within one with a putback at the 1:23 mark.
Walton went to the charity stripe with 35.9 seconds left and hit the first of two shots for a 57-55 Howard lead before Fullilove nailed another 3 from the wing for a 58-57 DeKalb lead with 27 seconds to play.
Howard got a layup from Brandon Walters 10 seconds later as the lead changed hands one more time.
DeKalb's Braxton Atnip got a nice inside look, but his shot simply wouldn't fall with the game on the line as Walton alertly grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
The six-foot senior calmly stepped to the line and swished them both with 4.6 seconds as the Howard faithful began to celebrate.
The visitors had an inbounds play from midcourt with two seconds to play following a Howard foul, but Ethan Roller's off-balance shot wasn't close as the game ended.
Walton transferred to Howard from Lookout Valley this year, so he's making his first trip to Murfreesboro while his teammates will be going for the second straight year. He was just happy that he could contribute to such a meaningful victory.
"That was my comeback after I missed the one right before the last two. We practice free throws all the time and coach always says we may be shooting with the game on the line. I'm just happy that I made them for my team. It feels great," Walton added.
DeKalb County coach Lynus Martin felt like his team played extremely well, but that Walters' late bucket may have been the key to Howard's win.
"This is no slam against Howard, but I felt like we were the better team here tonight," Martin said after exiting the visiting locker room.
"We were one stop away from winning this basketball game. We did as good a job as we could keeping their big man off the glass, but his last shot changed the game.
"I'm super proud of these guys as we had a great run, but I really feel like we should have won this game. We had a nice lead to start the fourth quarter, but we got careless and all of a sudden Howard was right back in it. That last shot by their big man was the difference," Martin added.
"These guys are killing me," said Howard coach Walter "Moose" McGary after his team had pulled out their second-straight last-second victory.
"I told our guys that we had plenty of time left and that we just had to believe in ourselves. We aren't normally a three-point shooting team and I'll take the blame for that, but our press got us moving and that nine-point run at the start of the fourth quarter was huge.
"It seemed like we were a step and a half behind all night, but I'm pleased we got the win and get to keep playing. We're too impatient at times, but we just have to remember what got us here. I'm just glad that we have about a week to improve on some things.
"I'm really proud of Chris Walton. He missed two free throws against McMinn Central, but I guess he made up for that tonight. He does all the dirty work that people don't notice, but I always put him on the other team's best player as he's my best defender.
"He made a big difference tonight," McGary concluded.
Walters was the leading scorer for Howard with 20 points and he also grabbed 16 rebounds, including 10 in the second half. He also had five blocked shots.
Cameron followed with 15 points while Cudjoe Young came off the bench to score a dozen for Howard.
Fullilove had 24 points to lead DeKalb County. Atnip finished with 13 while Roller added nine.
Justin Bone added eight points and nine rebounds while Phillips also had nine rebounds.
Howard won the battle of the boards, 33-32.
DeKalb County 14 13 24 7 -- 58
Howard 16 12 15 18 -- 61
DEKALB CO. (58) -- Roller 10, Lomas, Fullilove 24, Atnip 13, Phillips 4, Bone 8, Patterson.
HOWARD (61) -- Smith, Cameron 15, Harris 4, Walton 6, Walters 20, McCauley 4, Brummitt, Young 12, Brown.
3-POINT GOALS: DeKalb Co. 7 (Roller 2, Fullilove 4, Atnip); Howard 6 (Cameron 3, Walton, Young 2).
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)