Heading into the fourth quarter Thursday at East Ridge, Howard appeared on the verge of beating Tyner by double digits in the Region 3-AA high school boys' basketball final for a second consecutive year. But a funny thing happened on the way to the championship.
It was not so funny at the time for the Hustlin' Tigers, who blew a 16-point lead in the final quarter and found themselves in overtime. But 6-foot-8 Brandon Walters came up big in a different way than his towering size, dropping in the winning free throw with 2.1 seconds showing as Howard escaped with a 74-73 victory.
Howard (20-9) will host Sequatchie County in one of Monday's state sectionals at 7 p.m. Tyner (23-8) will play at Livingston Academy at 8 EST.
The Tigers had the lead from the moment they went up 10-8 and gained a 21-point advantage midway through the third quarter before going to the fourth ahead 50-34. The Rams then responded with a 31-point fourth quarter, tying the score at 63 for the first time since early in the game and again at 65 when Sadik Spence penetrated from the left side and fed Trey Suttles underneath with four seconds to go in regulation.
Four times Tyner owned one-point leads in overtime, but 4-of-7 free-throw shooting in the extra four minutes proved costly. The Rams ended up 18-of-32 from the line.
"Free throws killed us," Tyner coach Gerald Harris said.
The Tigers made 19 of 28 free throws, including 5 of 8 by Walters, who missed the first with the score 73-73.
"I felt like I had to make that second one," Walters said. "I followed through on that one. I took my time."
Walters was a force inside on both ends of the floor for the Tigers in their semifinal and final. He ended up with 29 points in the title game and was chosen the tournament's most valuable player.
"He's done a tremendous job for me," Howard coach Walter McGary said. "He's worked his way into shape. When he's in shape, there's nobody around that can touch him. He's got the footwork."
Howard freshman forward Wayne Caudle, who had been hampered with a pulled hamstring earlier in the season, gave scoring support with 12 points, including two key free throws with 15.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter. He fouled out with 2:25 left in overtime. Anthony Smith, who fouled out late in regulation, finished with 10 points.
Suttles was in his third game back from a knee injury that kept him out of 10 games and paced Tyner with 22 points. Spence scored 10 of his 16 in the fourth quarter and overtime and his half-court shot at the final buzzer grazed off the rim. Jamichael Bowman added 13 points for the Rams; Iman Jones scored 10.
Although reserve Mahandez Colvin's scoring contribution was one point, he drew praise from his coach for helping spark Tyner's comeback.
"One thing about a spark, it gets contagious," Harris said. "For two and a half quarters we were dead. I called a timeout and told them, 'We've got more character than this.' I thought our bench did a great job. I'm really pleased. This was probably one of the best high school games I've been around in a long time."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.