JaVaughn Craig was fearless from 3-point range Thursday night.
So, when East Hamilton sprung a leak in its 2-3 zone defense Craig decided to shoot one more for good measure.
Craig’s sixth 3-pointer with 14.3 seconds remaining turned into a big-time winner, the Blue Tornado’s C.J. Fritz deflected Mac Brower’s 3 at the buzzer and McCallie walked away with a 50-49 non-league victory over the visiting Hurricanes.
“No game should come down to the last shot,” Craig said. “But the coaches wanted to take the last shot. They trusted me and I trusted my teammates to get me open. When it left my hand it felt pretty good.”
Brower had drained a 3 with 1:42 left to give the Hurricanes a 47-45 lead.
McCallie’s Adrian Thomas made a layup to pull the Tornado (10-8) within two points.
East Hamilton’s Tracy Thompson dropped in a turnaround jumper in the lane with 37.9 seconds left.
McCallie (10-8) called a timeout with 28.2 seconds remaining.
“We drew up that play and executed it perfectly,” McCallie coach Dan Wadley said. “We wanted a double screen to free him up to get a 3 to win the game, and he buried it. We practice that play a lot, but don’t run it much in games. It’s an end-of-the-game type play.
“He executed it because he had been hitting his 3s.”
The Tornado worked the ball around East Hamilton’s zone and the last pass found Craig on the left wing.
No Hurricane player was close enough to contest Craig’s shot and the ball hit nothing but net, giving him a game-high 22 points – he made six 3s and went 4-for-4 from the foul line – and scored 11 points in the second half.
“Knowing coach Wadley, he’s going to call for a win,” Hurricanes coach Michael Stone said. “He has confidence in his players and we figured the play was going to Craig. We came out in a 2-3 zone and tried to defend him as best we could, but the kid stepped up and made a great play.”
One equally important happened a few seconds later.
After a timeout East Hamilton worked the ball down the court.
Brower dribbled right and back to his left before launching a long 3 under duress. Fritz, whose layup with just over five seconds left gave McCallie a 53-52 win over rival Baylor on Friday, got a piece of the ball and it fell well short of the target.
“Again, we won a game on the last possession with a defensive stop and both shots were air balls,” Wadley said. “We got a piece of that one tonight. We challenged them to dig in for 13 seconds and we could win the game, and they did. It was a tough shot and I was proud of that.”
Brower led East Hamilton (6-14) with 15 points, 11 coming in the second half and eight in the fourth quarter.
East Hamilton trailed by 31-21 at halftime and watched Craig hit a 3 to start the third quarter. The Hurricanes’ Quinn Griffith made a layup and the Tornado’s Adrian Thomas, another sophomore, hit one free throw to push the lead to 35-23.
Up to that point the Hurricanes had played ragged basketball, but, ironically that’s what Stone wanted.
“When you’re trying to make up for skill and athleticism that McCallie has, you have to make it ugly,” Stone said. “Ugly on our end is what we wanted. We couldn’t match up with them toe-to-toe. Their kids have been in some tough situations and (Craig) comes up with a clutch shot in a tough situation tonight.”
After Thomas’ free throw, the Hurricanes went on a 13-1 run, capped by Jordan Wingard’s back-to-back 3s, to tie the game at 36-all.
That man, Craig, nailed a 3 from the right wing and McCallie went into the final period with a 39-36 advantage.
Brower’s 3 from the top of the circle tied the game. His layup 25 seconds later gave the Hurricanes a 41-39 lead with 6:49 left. Tank Sparks’ free throw gave East Hamilton a three-point cushion.
Then Craig hit two free throws and Thomas, who finished with nine points, added a putback goal and free-throw line jumper and McCallie’s lead was 45-42 with 4:27 on the clock.
Kenny Bunton’s tough, spinning bank shot from 8-feet pulled the Hurricanes to within 45-44 at the 2:56 mark, setting up the hectic final moments of play.
“We’ve had some tough games recently, but tonight we competed and forced McCallie to hit a late shot to win,” Stone said. “That speaks to the character of this team. When you’re 6-15 it’s easy to sprint to the locker room and point fingers and have some jealousy, but I couldn’t be more proud of how hard our guys played tonight.”
After an opening quarter that pushed the limits of sloppy play, the Blue Tornado built their 10-point halftime lead on the strength of a 22-10 second period. Craig had eight points, including two 3s, in the quarter.
“When he doesn’t force his shots, he’s a really nice shooter,” Wadley said of Craig. “
McCallie returns to Division II-AA East/Middle Region play on Saturday when Pope John Paul comes to the Sports and Activity center.
East Hamilton next plays at rival Ooltewah on Friday in a District 5-AAA contest.
East Hamilton 11 10 15 13 – 49
McCallie 9 22 8 11 – 50
East Hamilton (49) – Thompson 9, Jackson, Lowery 2, Sparks 1, Bunton 6, Chacko 2, Wright 2, Wingard 6, Griffith 4, Brower 15, Beach 2.
McCallie (50) – Fritz 4, Bowman, Moxey, Craig 22, Thomas 9, Whitener 1, Alford 7, Clark 4, Atkins 1, Walker, McDonald 2.
3-Point Goals – East Hamilton 6 (Brower 3, Wingard 2, Thompson); McCallie 7 (Craig 6, Alford).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)