Despite leading most of Thursday's District 6-AA boys' high school basketball game against Howard, East Hamilton found itself trailing the Hustlin' Tigers by five points when the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter went by. But instead of folding against the top team in the district standings and a team the Hurricanes had never beaten in their four years as a varsity program, this time they were valiant.
Beginning with Kenny Bunton's layup after a turnover, East Hamilton rallied down the stretch and defeated Howard 49-46, outscoring the Tigers 9-1 over the final 2:33.
Howard (16-4, 9-2) remains in first place in 6-AA. East Hamilton (15-7, 7-3) solidified its hold on second.
"There's still a lot of basketball to be played," Hurricanes coach Michael Stone said. "We have a lot of tough games left, as does the rest of the district. If nothing else, this is big for our confidence. It lets us know we can battle with No. 1 in the district."
Howard coach Walter McGary was particularly disgusted that his team was unable to hold on to the 45-40 lead it owned after Shailique Cameron made two free throws for the last of his 13 points with 3:26 to play.
"In the heat of the battle, sometimes people make mistakes," McGary said. "I did a poor job of communicating to my team what I wanted them to do."
The Hurricanes overtook the Tigers on Ladarius Watkins' layup off an inbounds pass with 1:11 to go. East Hamilton's Tre Herndon made the front ends of one-and-ones at 26.7 and 6.3 seconds. In between, Howard's Chris Walton missed a 3-point shot and Antonio Smith's 3-point shot from the left corner at the buzzer was long.
The Tigers' only lead in the first half was 2-0. Four times before halftime the 'Canes led by as many as nine, and they were up by 11 after Dominic Powell drove and scored the first points of the second half. But Howard responded with a 12-0 run and regained the lead at 33-32.
"It's a game of runs and Howard is a quality team that's not going to stop," Stone said. "No lead is safe. They made their run. I thought we showed a lot of mental toughness and tenacity tonight."
From there, there the teams swapped the lead once more and there were three ties before East Hamilton went ahead for good.
"We started running our offense and got the lead," McGary said. "Then we stopped."
Center Brandon Walters led the Tigers with 24 points. His 12-for-15 performance from the free-throw line helped them make 17 of 23 for the game, compared to the 'Canes making 4 of 6.
Bunton topped East Hamilton with 18 points. Powell and Cody Knox contributed nine apiece.
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.