The winning boys' coaches Tuesday in the Region 3-AA high school basketball tournament adhere to the belief that the outcome of any matchup involving District 6 rivals Brainerd, Howard, Red Bank and Tyner - two of which took place at East Ridge - will be determined in the final eight minutes of play.
"It's been that way all year," said Howard coach Walter McGary, whose Hustlin' Tigers' 32-point fourth quarter pushed them past Red Bank 79-54 in one semifinal. "Whoever wins the fourth quarter usually wins the ballgame."
Tyner defeated Brainerd 52-49 in the first semifinal when the Panthers' Darrius Higgins had his 3-point shot from the right wing in the waning seconds bound off the rim.
Howard (21-6) and Tyner (17-9) will play for the region title tonight at 7 at East Ridge. They've already secured berths in Monday's state-sectional round.
Red Bank ended its season 24-8 and Brainerd wound up 18-14.
"I really believe these four teams match up well with one another," Tyner coach Gerald Harris said. "I said going into the district tournament that winning would come down to whoever's going to make good decisions at the end."
The Tigers were the district regular-season champions and Red Bank won the district tournament. Tuesday, neither team led by more than four points until Howard's Anthony Smith made the second of two free throws for a 32-27 halftime lead.
The Tigers went from tied at 38 to leading 49-42 when the fateful stretch began.
Post player Barry Griffin was scoreless before making seven field goals at point-blank range in a four-minute span, feasting off a variety of bounce and lob entry passes from Howard's guards. Including another basket down low by Brandon Walters and a length-of-the-floor drive by Smith, the lead swelled to 67-48 by the time Red Bank called time out with 3:03 to play.
"We put in some new options for our plays," McGary said. "I told them, 'Just be patient and the inside is going to open up. Then you've got to be able to make the correct passes.'"
Smith came off the bench and led the Tigers with 17 points. Demontay Suttles and Jarvis Ray added 12 apiece.
After not scoring in the first quarter, Nick Ross topped the Lions with 17 points. Derrick Ashley had 12 at halftime and finished with 16.
When Brainerd went up 32-25 with Demetrius Kitchens following his miss at 2:15 of the third quarter, it marked the largest lead for either team to that point in the first semifinal. Trey Suttles' timely three-point play 10 seconds later then quieted the Panthers' portion of the crowd.
"I was about to call a timeout, but then I thought if we can sustain this we'll be OK," said Harris, whose team had gone through three of its five timeouts by 4:58 of the second quarter. "Things kind of turned around.
"It makes it easy if they recognize Trey's got somebody on his back: 'This is a sure basket.'"
Suttles, who totaled 15 points, also made the last basket of the third quarter, the first one of the fourth and another that got the Rams within 39-38. They took the lead for good on Dee Suttles' only points - a 3-point goal from the right wing with 4:37 to play.
Tyner was led in scoring by point guard Travis Jones, who had 15 of his 19 points after halftime.
Kitchens and Higgins had 12 points each and Damon Warren scored 11 for the Panthers, who were 7-for-15 from the free-throw line before making their last six in the last 2:50. The Rams had gone 10-for-14 from the line before making 4 of 8 in the final 2:22.