MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — An icy start and finish were just enough to bring the Brainerd boys' basketball season to an end Tuesday in the Class 2A state tournament quarterfinals.
The Panthers didn't score their first basket until more than halfway through the opening quarter, falling behind by as much as 11 points before fighting back to trail by one at the half. But after taking a lead late in the fourth, Brainerd again went cold, failing to score over the final 2:39 of the game in a heartbreaking 40-39 loss to Memphis Power Center.
"My thought all week was that this game would come down to a possession or two at the end," said Panthers coach Levar Brown, whose team missed three field goals, two free throws and turned the ball over twice in the final two minutes with a chance to retake the lead.
With just under five seconds remaining Brainerd had ball following a turnover. Coming out of a timeout, the inbounds pass went to Dennis Lewis Jr., who drove near the right side of the basket and had to alter his shot over the raised arms of a Knights defender. The shot ricocheted off the glass just before the buzzer sounded, and Lewis Jr. fell to the floor after what appeared to be contact from the defender.
"We had two options out of our last play design," Brown added. "We felt good about it because we would get a good look and if we missed we had a shot at a rebound and putting it back up, but that didn't play out after the miss.
"There definitely was contact and that's tough to communicate that to the kids when we felt like there could have been a call down there. There's nothing you can say right now to take the hurt away — but we only have two seniors, so for all the guys we have coming back the challenge is how do they respond next season?"
The Knights, a decade-old school making its state tournament debut, connected on 13 of 19 free throws, compared to 6-of-10 by Brainerd.
"It's hard to put into words right now," said junior post Donivon Thomas, who led Brainerd with 11 points and eight rebounds. "It's a tough way to lose."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis