MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Leading up to their Class A state basketball tournament game against Friendship Christian School, Grace Academy senior Corey Nelson said he and his teammates were making "all of our shots."
Now they're wishing they could have saved a few for the first half Thursday night.
The Golden Eagles missed their first 12 shots and fell behind 17-3. They recovered to take a brief second-half lead but ultimately fell 52-46 to the Commanders at the Murphy Center in the state quarterfinals.
Friendship Christian (26-3), making its first state-tournament appearance, plays a semifinal today against McEwen (31-1), which defeated Cloudland 65-64 on a free throw by Garrett Mullinicks in the closing seconds.
Nelson led Grace with 20 points, while Stephen Record had 12 -- 10 in the first half. Record scored the Golden Eagles' first field goal with a layup with 4:44 left in the second quarter.
"We just couldn't hit shots," Grace coach Jon Mattheiss said. "When you're not making shots you normally make, it puts you in a defensive bind. Luckily, we dug the hole early and it gave us time to come back."
With Nelson battling foul trouble, Mattheiss switched to a 1-2-2 zone defense that slowed the Commanders, who went on a dry spell of their own. Record's assist to Alex Hernandez for a layup right before the halftime buzzer cut the lead to 21-17.
The comeback continued in the second half, with a 3-pointer by Josh Smith and a putback by Austin Powell giving Grace a 22-21 lead.
The Commanders' Dalton Patterson scored on a layup to give his team the lead back. The teams were briefly tied late in the quarter, but a transition layup by Allen Heaston gave Friendship a 34-32 lead going into the fourth.
The lead grew to seven in the first minutes of the fourth. Grace trimmed the lead to two on a short jump shot by Smith with 3:10 left, but the Commanders made six of nine free throws down the stretch to claim the victory.
Even with the finish, they finished 9-for-19 at the line (47.4 percent).
The Golden Eagles (19-11) shot only 30.4 percent from the field and hit 3-for-17 from 3-point range. Their shooting woes extended to the foul line, where they hit 15-for-25.
"We just couldn't throw a rock in the ocean today," Nelson said.
Heaston paced a trio of Commanders in double figures with 16 points. Patterson added 13, while Mark Sandoval had a triple-double of sorts, with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 turnovers.
"Give Grace credit. They switched to that zone that threw us off," Friendship coach Cleve Harris said. "It took us the whole game to adjust, and I don't think we ever did, but we did some key things down the stretch to get the win."