With his team trailing by one point and just 41 seconds remaining, Brainerd basketball coach Robert High couldn't have felt more confident.
Knowing Jabari Evans, the school's career free-throw-percentage leader, was about to step to the line for five free throws, High believed the game was all but in hand.
Evans, a 6-foot-2 senior wing, had been fouled on a 3-point attempt and Tyner's Jemicah Bowman was called for a technical foul. The Panthers' 86-percent foul shooter sank all five attempts, and on the ensuing Brainerd possession he hit another two to pace a 64-56 District 6-AA victory over the eighth-ranked Rams.
"There's nobody we would want stepping to the line more than that kid in that situation," High said. "He's as automatic as there is."
The teams traded the lead six times in the fourth quarter and were tied four other times.
After Evans was fouled on his 3-point attempt, Brainerd's Jerrain Besley stood inches away from Bowman and Tyner coach Gerald Harris, eavesdropping on the coach-player conversation. Bowman pushed Besley away and was called for the technical.
Even the delay didn't disrupt Evans, who scored half his 14 points in the final 41 seconds.
"I block out the crowd, the other players and everything else before I shoot free throws," he said. "All I ever hear is my dad in my head reminding me to take my time and make them. I've been practicing free throws with him since I was 8 years old, and it's something I take a lot of pride in."
Once the Panthers (15-7, 7-3) began to break Tyner's press early in the second quarter, an 11-0 run put them ahead by six midway through the period. The Rams (13-4, 6-2) responded with three 3-pointers by Bowman to tie the game later in the quarter, but Brainerd reclaimed the lead by halftime.
Brainerd again led by six in the third quarter before Tyner closed it out with a 5-0 run started by Tre Suttles' three-point play.
Midway through the fourth, the Rams snapped a tie on Bowman's fifth 3-pointer of the game, and three minutes later another Bowman 3 broke a tie again, but Brainerd continued to answer each Tyner scoring run.
"We couldn't make the stops we needed whenever we got a little momentum," Harris said. "That's the way it's been the last few games, and it's frustrating. But these are the kind of games we're going to have every night in this district. It's crazy how even all the teams are."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...