Howard's Lorenzo McCauley admitted he doesn't spend time practicing turnaround jumpers from around 22 feet. It was hard to tell that Friday.
With 5.5 seconds to play in a tie game in overtime, a play was set up for McCauley to take a potential tiebreaking shot. He took the inbound from Chris Walton, wheeled around and calmly dropped in a long-range buzzer-beater from out front that lifted the Hustlin' Tigers past the Panthers 54-51 in a District 6-AA game.
The reserve guard hadn't even scored until then, but that one basket brought the Howard faithful out of their seats with a loud roar. After being mobbed by his teammates, he got a ride across the court on a couple of Hustlin' Tigers' shoulders.
"I knew I was going to make it," McCauley said. "I told him to throw it to me, I was going to make it. That's the shot I've been dreaming about my whole life. Being against Brainerd made it even better."
Howard was fortunate to be in that situation after being down by 13 points late in the first half. McCauley's shot gave the Tigers their first lead since 13-12.
Brainerd scored the first points in overtime on Calvin Davenport's 3-point shot, then had chances to extend the margin but missed two front ends of one-and-bonus situations before Howard tied it on Walton's 3-pointer at the 48-second mark.
"This has been a pattern for us," Brainerd coach Robert High said. "Three of the four games we played in the Bahamas we played hard in the first half, then came out in the second half and 'Where did we go?' The problem tonight was mental. I told them, 'We've got the lead and the ball. Spread the floor. Use the clock. We should be shooting layups or getting fouled. Go to the free-throw line and make the shots.'
"We took a couple of jumpers we didn't need to take and missed front ends of one-and-ones. We shoot free throws in practice every day, at least 50."
Tigers center Brandon Walters went to the bench with two fouls and sat out much of the second quarter. Coach Walter McGary resisted the temptation to put him back in until the second half when his offensive rebounding and shot blocking helped turn things around.
"This group has been playing small, even in practice," McGary said. "I figured we could go with a small lineup. As long as we stayed within 10 or 12, I felt like we could still be there in the end. It ain't going to work every time, but it worked tonight."
Antonio Smith led Howard (3-0, 1-0) with 14 points. Walton, whose layup after an interception with 1:13 remaining in regulation enabled the Tigers to get the game to overtime, added 13.
Marques Tipton topped Brainerd (3-3, 1-1) with 21 points -- 19 in the first three quarters. Jay Besley contributed 11.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.