A major sigh of relief was let out by an entire East Hamilton squad after Darwin Randolph rose high to tip in the go-ahead basket with 6.3 seconds left to play against an archrival.
Randolph crashed the middle of the paint with no defenders boxing out on Jamaal Walker's 3-point attempt and timed his leap and swat perfectly to sink Ooltewah's chances of a road upset.
The Hurricanes' hero walked away thankful to help keep his side undefeated in the District 5-AAA standings as all 10 of his points were needed to pull out a 52-51 victory Friday night.
"Man, this is absolutely crazy," Randolph said moments after the Owls could not get off a shot in time at the final buzzer. "We played terrible tonight, but we pulled it together. We stuck together as a team and did what we needed to do to win this rivalry game."
East Hamilton (14-3, 6-0) could not find a rhythm offensively against the motivated Owls, who were able to take the driving lanes away and draw numerous charges.
Veteran coach Frank Jones was not pleased with his Hurricanes' lackluster effort but forced a near smile about them finding a way to win with their lowest scoring output of the season.
"I thank God we won this game and that Darwin was able to make the play he did when he did," Jones said. "However, we have to go back to the drawing board and try to play some real basketball. We have a very tough road trip to Cleveland next Tuesday. This district does not have many easy contests at all."
Greyson Wood provided a spark for the Owls (11-8, 3-3), who led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter on a night their flashy point guard provided a game-high 15 points.
Wood drew two charges and gave his side a lead with a pull-up jumper to go ahead 39-38 with 1:12 left in the third quarter — a lead Ooltewah did not surrender until Morrell Schramm sank two free throws with three minutes left in regulation to put East Hamilton ahead 50-49.
Julien Walker took the lead back for the visitors with a pair of free throws with two minutes left, which would be the last points for Ooltewah. Walker and Logan Henry each finished with 12 points.
"I could not be prouder of our kids," Ooltewah coach Jay Williams said. "We dressed 10 kids tonight, and they were all leaders. Our guys played hard, and that's all you can ask as a coach from your players. We had a great student section tonight, and so did East Hamilton. This was a great environment to play in front of."
East Hamilton was led by Schramm's 13 points, six of which came in a gritty fourth-quarter finish. Jamaal Walker also had a dozen and eight rebounds.
The Hurricanes led 31-26 at the break, but a feeling could be sensed the Owls were not going away easily.
Ooltewah regrouped after a 80-41 thrashing it took at home to Cleveland earlier in the week but fell just shy of the biggest upset in 5-AAA this season.
"This was a good experience for my guys," Jones said. "This is a game that can get Darwin's confidence going. He's a good shooter and does a lot of things well for us. We just have to stick to our game plan and play with a lot more consistency."
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.