MURFREESBORO, Tenn.-Impatience had dug a double-digit hole for Howard's basketball team. But rather than getting rattled, the Hustlin' Tigers calmly battled back for a dramatic 47-45 victory over Giles County in the Class AA state tournament Thursday.
After rallying from an 11-point second-half deficit with better shot selection, Howard refused to be rushed in the closing seconds, waiting for the best opportunity. When Demontay Suttles took a pass just inside the free-throw line, turned and hit a 14-foot jump shot with 1.3 seconds remaining, the Hustlin' Tigers had their first lead of the second half.
Then Giles County's Levar Johnson's desperation half-court shot ricocheted off the front of the rim at Middle Tennessee State University.
It is the second time in four years that the Hustlin' Tigers have advanced to the semifinals.
HOWARD 47, GILES COUNTY 45
Howard 11 10 14 12 - 47
Giles County 10 15 13 7 - 45
Howard (47) - Barry Griffin 16, Smith 5, Keante Cameron 11, Demontay Suttles 11, Ray, Martin, Walters.
Giles (45) - Lake Jones 14, Howard 4, Cobb 2, Gardner 2, Townsend 6, Levar Johnson 16, Hardison, Bledsoe 1.
3-point goals: Howard 2 (Cameron 2); Giles 4 (Jones 3, Johnson). Records: Howard 24-6; Giles County 24-6.
"After we made our shot I told the kids the only way they're going to beat us is with a Hail Mary," Howard coach Walter McGary said. "That's about the only way we haven't lost a game over here - on a heave at the buzzer - and when their shot was in the air and I saw it looked like it was headed toward the goal, I thought, 'Oh no, we've worked so hard to get back in it and take the lead. Don't go in.' My heart stopped until I saw it bounce off the rim."
Howard (24-6) plays today at 4:15 p.m. EDT against top-ranked Liberty (30-3), which defeated Knoxville Fulton on Thursday. Liberty, which has won 16 straight games, has played in three of the last five state finals, including last year with a runner-up finish.
"Coach likes me taking that shot. I've been pretty good at it all year from that spot," said Suttles, who had 11 points and five rebounds. "I'm a senior captain so I expected to do something to help my team win. I was confident as soon as I let it go."
Howard led the entire first quarter but never by more than three points. Giles County took the lead on Johnson's 3-pointer with 2:11 left in the second quarter and led from that point until Howard's Keante Cameron hit a 3 with 2:28 remaining in the game.
A steal and layup by Johnson put Giles County ahead by 11 with 1:52 remaining in the third quarter, but Howard closed with an 8-0 run in the final 1:09 of that period and got within one on Barry Griffin's layup to begin the fourth. Griffin had been Howard's most consistent scorer, but he and point guard Cameron each began the fourth quarter with four fouls. Neither of those senior starters fouled out, however, and they and Suttles accounted for all 12 of Howard's fourth-quarter points.
"We still wanted to be aggressive and press them because they didn't handle the pressure well, but we had to be smart, too," said Griffin, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds. "It was kind of depressing when I looked up and saw we were down by 11. But we just had to turn it up on defense and fight back.
"Once we got back in it, we've played in so many close games this year, we felt good about what to do."
Giles County built its lead back to five on Lake Jones' 3-pointer with 4:34 to go, but was one of only two Wildcats field goals in the fourth quarter.
Once Howard, which has had seven games decided on the final possession this year, pulled even and forced another turnover, the Hustlin' Tigers held the ball from the two-minute mark until 10 seconds remained before beginning the offensive set that resulted in Suttles' winning shot.
"I was kind of surprised that they just let us spread the floor and run the clock down like that," McGary said. "We were content to either win it on a last shot or take our chances in overtime. The guys did a great job of working it around until they found the open man, and then he did his job."