WHITWELL, Tenn. -- With one flick of the wrist, Tyler Gay not only etched his name in the night's scoring ledger but assured it will be remembered prominently for years to come. The junior's 3-pointer at the final buzzer lifted Lookout Valley to a 48-45 upset of top-seeded Van Buren County and the program's first District 6-A tournament championship since 2000.
"I wasn't even thinking about it," Gay said of his only made shot of the game. "I usually play better when I just let things happen instinctively, and there really wasn't any time to think about it. I just caught it and shot. It felt good when I released it, and when it went in, it's hard to explain how I felt."
Van Buren had lost just once to a district opponent in the regular season and beat Lookout Valley twice, including once in overtime. But the Eagles never led in the second half, and their largest lead of the first half was just three points.
Lookout Valley closed out the first quarter on a 5-0 run to take the lead, ended the first half on a 7-2 run and then began the third quarter with an 11-0 spurt that built the lead to 12.
A technical foul on tournament MVP Delaney Heathington allowed Van Buren to make four free throws and close within two with 3:33 remaining. The Yellow Jackets (19-10) rebuilt the lead to five and had possession of the ball with two minutes remaining, but a steal and layup by Tucker McDonald, followed by another turnover and layup, closed the margin to one in a 14-second span.
Stracey Bonner, the Jackets' only senior, grabbed five of his 11 rebounds in the fourth quarter, helping limit Van Buren's second-chance points.
Lookout Valley point guard William Long, who had made all five previous free throws, missed five of six attempts in the final 1:31, allowing Van Buren to tied the game on Travis Ayers' layup with 33 seconds remaining. Knowing the Eagles had a size advantage inside, Jackets coach Joe Galloway called time out and drew up a final shot to be taken on the perimeter.
"We've got a couple of kids who shoot pretty well from out there in [Tshombe] Farmer and Gay," Galloway said. "The play was to go to whichever one had the more open look. Our guys did a real nice job of being patient, making the extra pass and finding the open shooter all night.
"I thought Long was tired at the end because we had asked him to do so much. He's usually a really good free-throw shooter, and all of his misses were coming up short. We've come together in a big way recently, and I think we've had so many close games that hopefully our guys have learned how to pull them out now."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...