The Brindlee Mountain boys are headed to the 3A, Area 13 Tournament final tomorrow night, and a big reason is the clutch free throw shooting in the fourth quarter by junior Taylor King, who sank eight straight foul shots to help the Lions subdue a scrappy Holly Pond team 57-52 in the area semifinals Tuesday night.
The Lions led the Broncos 23-15 at halftime and went up by 11 in the early seconds of the third quarter and appeared to be cruising to the easy victory. But Holly Pond, which carried a 1-21 record into the game, turned up the intensity on both ends of the floor and incredibly led 36-35 at the end of three quarters after hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 2.9 seconds left in the period.
It was the Broncos’ first lead since the first quarter and it shook up the home crowd. Levi Boatright was instrumental in the second-half charge. He finished with a game-high 21 points.
The drama didn’t end with the Broncos’ third-quarter rally, but King hit six straight free throws within a 68-second stretch midway through the fourth quarter to keep the Lions ahead, 49-43, then he hit two more with 34 seconds to make it 54-48. There was intrigue before and after King’s final two free throws, but they proved to be enough to seal the victory.
“Huge,” Brindlee Mountain coach Seth Kelly said of King’s dramatic free-throw shooting display under serious stress. “Our free throw shooting (overall) down the stretch was huge.”
Point well taken. Through three quarters, the Lions hit 5 of 11 free throws. In the fourth quarter alone, they made 17 of 23 as the Broncos aggressively harassed the Lions with every touch of the ball.
Brindlee Mountain was able to rebuild its lead to 10 (41-31) on a Caleb Scott bucket inside with 5:55 to play, enabling the crowd to breathe a sigh of relief.
But still, it wasn’t over.
Holly Pond cut it to 43-40 with 4:32 to play with a combination of its own aggression and poor ball-handling and decision-making by the Lions, no doubt forced by the Broncos’ intensity. But that also led to a lot of fouls on Holly Pond, which committed 24 for the game, including 18 in the second half.
With a motivated Scott playing well inside and King and others making enough free throws to matter, the Lions moved on to the area tournament final, which they will host Friday night at 6 against Susan Moore, 49-47 winners over J.B. Pennington Tuesday night.
Scott finished with 19 points and King, Ian Garner and Andrew Byars had 10 each. Garner also hit some clutch free throws late and had a huge defensive rebound in the frantic closing seconds, and Byars had a key 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give the Lions the lead, 38-36. Even though the game stayed in doubt and was as close as three points in the final 10 seconds, the Lions never trailed again after Byars’ 3.
Byars also had a crucial steal with 55 seconds left as the Broncos continued to pressure the Lions.
“Taylor, Ian, Andrew and Scott, they all had big, big games,” Kelly said.
As for Susan Moore, Kelly is cautiously optimistic.
“We split with them in the regular season, with us losing there and us winning here by 18 points (to clinch the regular season title),” Kelly said. “That loss to Susan Moore, we look at as the turning point of our season.”
The Lions didn’t lose in the area again and, ironically, the Broncos’ one win came against Susan Moore, enabling the Lions to win the regular season outright by defeating Susan Moore in the return match.
Without Holly Pond’s win, the Lions might not be hosting the area final.
“They’re good,” Kelly said of Susan Moore. “They can shoot the 3 from all five spots. They’re hard to guard from that standpoint.
“We’ll have to come out and play well.”
Also scoring for the Lions were Blake Westbrook and Devin Lewis with three each and Christian Adams with two.
For Holly Pond, Landon Rowell had eight points and Jayden Perkins and Parker Sellers had seven each.