The Brownwood Lions were 36 seconds away from earning their first district basketball victory since Feb. 10, 2012, but a six-point advantage slipped away in the last half-minute. Then, in overtime, a quick start by the Graham Steers propelled the visitors to 75-73 victory Friday night at Warren Gym.
A win would have moved the Lions (4-20, 0-6) into a tie for fourth place with Stephenville (5-15, 1-5) with two games remaining — including Friday’s 6:30 p.m. showdown at Warren Gym between the two teams fighting for District 6-4A’s final playoff berth. Stephenville won the first meeting, 63-31, on Jan. 27.
Meanwhile, Graham (7-12, 4-2) tightened its hold on third place in the league standings with the win.
“I was so proud of the kids’ effort, they did a great job,” said Lions head coach Grant Freeman, whose team is off Tuesday. “We just didn’t execute some things down the stretch in regulation. Graham came out and hit the first couple of baskets of overtime, but we continued fighting to the very last point. I’m proud of them, I love them, they’re amazing kids and they’re going to be great. The breaks just didn’t go our way tonight.”
A pair of free throws with 36 seconds left by Rosavelt Duffie, who led all Lions with 17 points, staked Brownwood to a 66-60 advantage. Graham’s Wesley Martin knocked down a three-pointer with 26 seconds left to cut the Lions’ lead in half, but Brownwood’s Tyler Jackson converted one of two free throws with 22 seconds left.
Down 67-63 with 17 seconds to go, Jaxon Broadway scored on a drive for the Steers and was fouled. Broadway missed the free throw — one of just six shots off target in 22 attempts from the free throw line for Graham — but yanked down the rebound and dished to Ethan Nickel, who scored with 11 seconds left to knot the score at 67.
The Lions, who dropped their 27th straight district contest, were unable to convert a last gasp attempt as time expired, then Graham opened the overtime session on a 6-1 run.
Cory Richardson hit one of two free throws 19 seconds into the extra session to give the Lions their final lead, 68-67. Nickel, who scored 19 of his game-high 21 points after halftime, gave the Steers the lead for good, 69-68, with 3:24 left, then Brockway added a pair of insurance buckets, stretching the Graham lead to 73-68 with 35 seconds remaining.
Richardson drained a three with 11 seconds to go to bring the Lions within a bucket, 73-71, then Brownwood appeared to force a five-second call on Graham’s inbounds attempt. After a conference between officials, it was determined the Steers had called timeout before the turnover ensued and Graham kept the ball. A deep pass to Brockway resulted in a foul by the Lions, and the Graham shooting guard knocked down a pair of free throws to ice the game, 75-71, with eight seconds left.
Tyler Jackson scored for the Lions on offensive putback as time expired for the final two-point margin.
Following Duffie’s team-best 17-point effort for the Lions were Richardson with 16, McLane Moore and Corleone Pressley with 10 apiece, Mason Cabaniss with eight, Jackson with five, Blaine Hughes with three and Hayden Day and Kory Owen with two points apiece.
“We were a little more balanced than we’ve normally been and I was pleased with our guard play,” Freeman said in regard to the offensive performance. “We just made some bad mental mistakes down the stretch in regulation, but that happens with a young team. Sometimes the light gets too bright, but they fought their tails off.”
Behind Nickel’s 21-point performance for the Steers were Steven Kimberling with 17, Wesley Martin with 13, Brockway with 12, Derek Sides with eight and David Nantz and Blake Thompson with two points apiece.
The Lions surrendered 11 of the first 12 points and faced a double-digit deficit just 4:02 into the contest. Brownwood trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half but closed the gap to 30-22 by halftime.
“Graham came out and hit some shots early and the wheels really came off for us,” Freeman said of the slow start. “We made some turnovers and did some other strange things, but I’m proud of the way the kids fought back.”
Trailing 40-30 with 4:41 left in the third, the Lions reeled off 14 consecutive points to seize their first lead, 44-40, with 1:55 to go in the quarter. The run started with a bucket by Owen followed by back-to-back three-pointers from Richardson and Cabaniss, which shaved the Steers’ advantage to 40-38. Richardson sank a pair of free throws to even the score, then Pressley scored in the paint at the 2:22 to give the Lions their first lead, 42-40. Pressley tacked on two free throws 27 seconds later to cap the run.
Brownwood held the lead for 10:11, until Graham pulled even with 11 seconds left in regulation.