Red Bank’s Susan Ingram Thurman Gymnasium was silent and the crowd had long since slipped into the dark of the night, but Red Bank head basketball coach Nick Fike was still trying struggling with words for the whys and the hows of what he had witnessed Tuesday night.
The what was obvious: another Tyner Ram victory over the host Lions, this one an altogether numbing and exciting 57-55 thriller that wasn’t decided until a minimum two to three seconds after the final horn had sounded.
“I’m at a loss for words, although I guess deflating is the word that works best.
We got the free throws at the end, we got the deflection and the steal, the shot, the rebound and another shot, but it just wouldn’t fall for us tonight. We just couldn’t capitalize on it,” Fike said in the dark gym.
A wild scramble in the game’s final 10 seconds had a little bit of everything and the suspense was not complete until Calvin Jackson’s rebound and shot at the horn wobbled around the entire basketball rim before gravity finally swayed it to the floor on the wrong side of the rim if you were a Red Bank supporter. The shot would have sent the game to overtime, but the basketball gods were clad in maroon and gold on this night just as they have been on most nights in this battle of District 6-AA squads.
The win was Tyner’s 18th straight, dating back to the 2010 season, and gave the Rams a regular-season sweep of the Lions for the eighth consecutive season. It also kept Tyner (16-4, 9-1) tied for the top spot in the league, providing a much-needed pick-me-up after a tough loss at Brainerd on Saturday.
“We needed that Saturday. It’s like I told the kids, medicine doesn’t always taste good, but sometimes you need it to get better, and that’s what Saturday was for us,” said Tyner coach E’Jay Ward.
The game was a back-and-forth for most of the night, and even though the Rams played out in front from the start of the second quarter till the very end, Red Bank was never out of it, refusing to wilt. Tyner’s largest lead of the night was nine at 39-30, but Lions never let go of the rope, reeling them back in every time the Rams seemed to be on the verge of putting it away.
Tyner took a 47-42 lead into the final period, but missed six free throws including a pair of front ends on bonus attempts. A Lucas Brown breakaway dunk and Torey Sewell’s putback of a miss made it a 52-51 game with 1:40 left. The Lions had a chance to take the lead after a Tyner miss, but Kobe Smith got a huge steal and breakaway layup to make it 54-51 at the 1:15 mark.
Tyner then made one of three free throws in the final 44 ticks before Brown drilled a long 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to make it 55-54. After a timeout, Tyner decided not to inbounds in the backcourt, and threw a long hail mary that was tipped, but a streaking Meligue Hambrick came back to the ball and won the tossup and the defender fell down in the process allowing him and uncontested layup with 10 seconds left for the 57-54 lead.
“We decided to be aggressive. We weren’t very aggressive on Saturday at times and it cost us. We needed something extra there at the end, and the gamble paid off. It was what we needed,” Hambrick said of the play.
Red Bank quickly threw it in and Brown was fouled on his 3-point attempt with 5.5 seconds left. Brown, who had nine of his 15 points in the final quarter, missed the first two and made the final one to force the Rams to throw it inbounds again up 57-55. Tyner went to the well again on the long pass, and again it was tipped, but this time Brown intercepted it at half court, drove to the bucket and missed the shot. Jackson grabbed the rebound and got it up before the horn, but the ball did everything but fall through the nets as time seemingly stood still before the heartbreak set in.
“This game was really a big one for us. We opened the door with our loss on Saturday, so every one of them is important from now on,” said Tyner’s Smith, who led all scorers with 20.
Smith had been the Rams’ leader from an offensive standpoint most of the season and the grandson of the former Riverside High and NBA great Anthony “Woosie” Roberts has a knack for hitting the big shots and making plays when Tyner needs them most.
Of course, the Ram who probably had the most to do with the success against Red Bank’s formidable front court was Nieagell Sturkey. Sturkey had four offensive rebounds and putbacks in putting up 12 points on the night, and was able to slow the rebounding prowess of all those Lions who play above the rim for Red Bank.
“Over our last four games, we’ve had 38-plus rebounds in every game, but not tonight. Sturkey did a good job for them, and we did a poor job boxing him out and it hurt us. Execution and free throws killed us,” said Fike.
Sturkey also put the clamps on Brandon Jones, who had eight points in the first quarter and 14 for the game, but was held scoreless when Sturkey was on the court guarding him.
“He has that capablility. He is a rebounder and a defensive enforcer for us who hasn’t scrathed the surface yet fo the player he is going to be,” said Ward of his swingman. “He got minutes tonight and he made the most of them. We got a lot of guys who are still trying to figure it out, but with the number of close games we have had and pulled them out, they are getting battled tested for sure.”
Smith led Tyner with his 20 and Sturkey had 12 along with at least that many rebounds. Red Bank got the usual even distribution with four players in double figures led by Brown with 15. Jones had 14 and Sewell and LeKerrick Ellison each had 11.
Red Bank girls 65, Tyner 34: The Lionettes continued to make easy work of District 6-AA foes with their eighth win within the league by at least double figures. Red Bank (15-6, 9-0) has yet to lose since the Christmas break and remain atop the league standings with the perfect mark.
Red Bank will continue to tune up for next week’s second showdown with second-place Signal Mountain on Friday with a game against East Ridge. Red Bank won the first outing against Signal Mountain by one.
Shelby Romans led Red Bank with her 21 points, all in the first three quarters, as the Lionettes rested their starters in the final period and made just one bucket. Bailey Lee added 19 points in the win as well in her three quarters.
Tyner got 11 from Ineiasha Camp.
Tyner 6 12 8 8 – 34
Red Bank 21 21 20 3 – 65
TYNER (34) – McKen 6, Ratliff, Espy, Cosey 4, Ineiasha Camp 11, Poole, McCutchen 4, Carne's, Crumsey 2, Long, Thomas 6, Kirk.
RED BANK (65) – Roberts 3, Washington 6, Pratt, Shelby Romans 21, Ware 2, Scott 3, Ledford 3, Bowens 2, Bailey Lee 19.
3-point goals: Tyner 4 (McKen 2, Camp 2); Red Bank 4 (Romans 3, Ledford).
Tyner 16 18 13 10 – 57
Red Bank 16 14 12 13 – 55
TYNER (57) – Kobe Smith 20, Grace 4, Bridgeman 6, Gresham 3, Hambrick 5, Fisher 3, Nieagell Sturkey 12, Melton, Halfacre.
RED BANK (55) – Ross, Lucas Brown 15, Trimble 1, Torey Sewell 11, Jackson 3, Brandon Jones 14, Bell, LeKerrick Ellison 11.
3-point goals: Tyner 5 (Smith 2, Gresham, Hambrick, Fisher); Red Bank 4 (Brown, Jackson, Jones, Ellison).
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)