ATHENS, Tenn. -- His team's furious rally had just fallen short in the District 5-AA tournament final Tuesday, yet McMinn Central basketball coach Doug Armstrong was in an upbeat mood.
He wasn't happy about the 80-76 loss to regular-season champ Sequoyah, but the veteran Chargers coach saw enough to know his team can compete against quality opponents. It's not something he could have said a few weeks ago.
"We started the year 2-7 and we fought our way back to where we are, so I knew this team had a lot of fight in them," Armstrong said of his 14-12 team, which will host Howard in the region tournament Saturday. "I knew we would come out tonight in the second half and play hard and compete, but I hate it that we dug the big hole we dug early.
"We know Sequoyah and we allowed them to do what they do well in the first half, and it was too big a hill to climb."
Sequoyah (25-4), which will host Tyner on Saturday, had beaten the Chargers handily in two regular-season games, so when the Chiefs rode the hot hand of Tevin West to a 20-6 lead after six minutes, it appeared another rout was at hand. That prospect looked even more realistic after a 10-0 run midway through the second period -- six points coming from hard-driving Jethro Griffin -- that pushed the lead to 16.
McMinn Central, though, closed the half with a 14-8 run to keep the game respectable. The lead remained nine to 12 points most of the third period, but when Griffin hit two quick baskets to start the fourth, the Sequoyah lead was back up to 15. However, Wesley Davis started hitting from all over the floor, the Chargers' defense picked up and the Chiefs, who were missing a cramping Griffin for big minutes in the final period, began to fall apart.
Three Davis free throws with 3:15 cut the lead to five, 73-68, and moments later Scott Moses hit a driving layup to make it a one-point game. The lead was still one when Davis made a layup off a quick break with 32 seconds left. McMinn had a chance to tie it with 20 seconds to go, but Davis was called for an offensive foul.
Griffin, who was named tournament MVP, made four of four free throws to seal the win.
"They were getting us at the end," a relieved Griffin said. "I got cramps in my legs, so I couldn't play my game in the final quarter. They also played good defense. I can't speak for the rest of the team, but I know I was a bit overconfident coming in, especially after we got up big. I'm just glad we were able to hang on."
Armstrong left the McMinn County gym knowing his team had given its all and that it will put up a fight Saturday.
"We had it in our main guy's hands with 15 seconds to go when they called the charge, so we were close," he said. "We played our best basketball the last month of the season, and we're looking forward to getting to play at home. We've got some good momentum right now, and we're going to need it."
Griffin and West tied for scoring honors with 24 apiece to lead the Chiefs. Davis, Taylor Trew and Moses scored 19, 18 and 16 to pace the Chargers.
Earlier, Sweetwater rode Cory Billingsley's 28 points to a 57-51 win over Polk County in the consolation game. Billingsley scored 12 of his team's 17 points in the final period.
Jhmarcus Brewster added 13 for Sweetwater, while Logan Brewer topped Polk County with 20 points and 11 rebounds and Brock Raper scored 14 points.