Updated at 8:09 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, with more information.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — For more than five decades, Howard's high school athletic teams have played with the same mantra: "We're going to fight till we can't fight no more. We'll lie down and bleed awhile, then get up and fight some more."
This season's Hustlin' Tigers basketball team embodied that motto, fighting back time and again to reach the Class AA state tournament for the first time in six years, then continually battling back before falling 78-75 in Wednesday's quarterfinal against East Nashville at Middle Tennessee State University.
"The outcome is not what we wanted, but our kids fought from start to finish," first-year Hustlin' Tigers coach James Talley said. "I couldn't ask for a better team. They bought in and believed in me and in themselves. We're a family.
"A lot of games we were undermanned but just had that fight to find a way. I want these guys to take that fight with them as they become adults."
The teams traded the lead 10 times in the first half before the Eagles (27-6) ended the second quarter on a 9-0 run to take a six-point halftime lead. East Nashville connected on four of its five 3-point attempts in the third quarter and led by as many as 11 points before Howard (25-9) put together a 12-0 run, punctuated by two free throws by Marquez Williams to give his team its first lead since the midway point of the second quarter.
The Eagles answered with an 11-2 run that appeared to put them back in control, leading by eight with 55 seconds remaining. Howard's last rally started with a 3-pointer by Demetrius Bowens, followed by a layup from Marquez Williams and another 3 by Dewayne Lawry, which closed the gap to a point with 14 seconds to go.
"We just kept believing it wasn't over, no matter how far we got down," Williams said. "No matter what the score, we just knew it wasn't over and we had to keep playing until the buzzer."
But the final 14 seconds were cruel to Howard as one official overruled another who had called the Eagles for a five-second violation on an inbounds play, instead awarding East Nashville with a timeout. On the ensuing possession, East Nashville senior Taras Carter missed two free throws, but the Eagles were able to get the rebound, forcing Howard to foul again.
Carter then made both of his foul shots, pushing the Eagles' lead to three with 3.2 seconds remaining, and Dewayne Lawry's potential game-tying 3-pointer was shot just after the buzzer, leaving the Hustlin' Tigers heartbroken.
"I kind of wish that shot wouldn't have gone in now," said Lawry, who finished with 14 points.
Sophomore Kerrick Thorne led Howard with 17 points, Williams finished with 13 and Calvin James added 12.
"We wanted to bring back the hustle. We had lost that over the last couple of years and we had to get it back, and that's what these kids did," Talley said. "I'm just happy that our community can be proud of this program again. Being a product of this side of town, people know me and how much it means to me to help us win again.
"We'll hurt right now because this isn't how we wanted the season to end. But we played five underclassmen today, and we've got some good kids coming back who know what it takes to not just get here but to win, and that's something we'll build on."