At The Buzzer: Wildcats win season finale on Mills' 3-pointer as time expires
By JOSEPH ELERSON, News-Telegram Sports Writer
Feb. 13, 2008 - In a game that had the excitement of a playoff atmosphere, SSHS junior guard Anthony Mills sent his three senior teammates out in style with time running out against the North Lamar Panthers on Tuesday.
With 1.8 seconds remaining in the game, Mills drained a 3-pointer from 25-feet away with two defenders in his face for a 54-51 win at Wildcat Gym.
"Every time we needed to step up this season we haven't, and we finally have when it came time to," said Mills. "Two of our seniors that don't get much playing time came in and stepped up big tonight. Joseph (McCann) came in and made some big 3's and Kaylon (Page) made a big shot for us. Overall, I think we played pretty good tonight."
With the win, the Wildcats broke an 11-game losing streak dating back to Jan. 3, and coach Braughn Curtis said this win was long overdue.
"You can't put this into words and express how that felt for us," Curtis said. "You are struggling day in and day out to get guys to go hard every day. If we would have been able to get one of those after Christmas, we would probably be looking at the playoffs right now. As you can see, that shot of adrenaline made things exciting for us. I am proud of the guys and I am so excited for them."
Junior Jonathan Lee led the team in scoring with 10 points to go along with two rebounds and one assist, while Kedrick Dial, Colton Nash and McCann had nine points each for the Wildcats (15-18, 1-9).
With 35 seconds remaining, the Panthers (16-13, 4-6) looked like they would be the spoilers as Qualon Fort came up with a steal and outlet pass to Justin Collard who finished with a layup and was fouled on the play for a 51-49 lead. Collard finished with a game-high 22 points, four rebounds and three assists, while Fort was held in check with six points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks.
Lee then came back and scored a layup with nine seconds remaining to tie the game at 51-51 and set up the late-game heroics.
For the first three quarters, NL looked to be in control as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead on two baskets by Collard, a free throw from Fort, a bucket by Jonathan Hawkins and an offensive putback by Sinjin Smith.
The Wildcats continued to battle as McCann nailed his first of three 3-pointers in the game for a 20-17 deficit with 2:14 remaining in the first half. The Panthers later took a 24-18 lead into the locker room as Collard drained a 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining.
In the third, SSHS outscored NL, 18-12, as the Panthers held a 37-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats were able to tie the game at 28-28 with 5:30 remaining in the quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by McCann, but could not gain their first lead of the game.
"I wish we could have been able to exploit that all year long," Curtis said of McCann's 3-point shooting. "It was just one of those things that he came into a game that he needed to win and played awesome. That was a credit to him, and he did a good job tonight."
Curtis said having the opportunity to use McCann, Page and Andrew Panter more tonight in their final game at Wildcat Gym with the absence of Bryant "Day Day" Jackson due to illness was great for him.
"I had to use them tonight, and I was going to regardless," Curtis said. "Those guys deserve every second of playing time that they got tonight with the positive attitude that they showed in practice all year long. What a way to honor those guys with the way we played tonight."
SSHS shot 23-of-47 from the field (48.9 percent), compared to 21-of-51 (41.2 percent) for the Panthers, but were outrebounded 32-22. The Wildcats shot 50 percent (7-of-14) from 3-point range, compared to 3-of-17 for the Panthers and both teams shot almost identical from the charity stripe. SSHS hit 5-of-9 (55.5 percent), compared to 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) for the Panthers.
With the 15-18 record for the Wildcats, Curtis said he has many memories of his first season at Sulphur Springs.
"I thought our guys played hard all year long. There was maybe one-or-two times where I can point out in our season where we have got to do something drastic to get us back on track," the coach said. "Those times were Christmas Break in Fouke, Ark., and we had been playing great basketball at that time. With three losses there, our confidence went down and another time was individual players during the preseason being able to play their roles.
"I am going to miss the guys' relationships with one another. Those guys were very unselfish and they bought into sharing the ball this year and wanting to win. This is one of the few teams that I have been around that wanted to be together and have fun together. I love this team and they loved being around each other and we had fun this year."
In the junior varsity game, the Wildcats defeated North Lamar 37-33, lead by Patrick Miller with 12 points. In the freshmen game, SSHS lost 55-50, led by 11 points from Kaylon Alexander and Alvin Frazier.