CALHOUN, Ga. — Vince Layson has been preaching to his basketball team the importance of closing out quarters strongly. Tuesday night in the GHSA Class AA second-round playoff game against Westminster, his Calhoun Yellow Jackets took that message to the extreme.
The Jackets hit three buzzer-beating shots, including Kaelen Riley's halfcourt heave to end the first quarter, to help defeat the Wildcats 59-37 and earn an Elite Eight appearance for the first time in 13 years. Calhoun will host Region 7 rival Coosa in the quarterfinal round Thursday; Coosa won Tuesday at Hapeville Charter School.
The Yellow Jackets have defeated Coosa four times this season.
"We've been harping on that all year, closing out quarters, and tonight we did it," Layson said. "The guys just used their athleticism and got their shots. That was quite a win."
It wasn't without drama, however. Calhoun (24-2) took its first lead on a Chandler Curtis 3-pointer late in the first period and never gave it up. Riley's 45-footer to end the period gave the Jackets a 15-8 lead, and the gap was 28-19 at halftime after Jirah Wilson nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
That lead got to 12 on a Riley putback with 3:45 to play in the third quarter, but Westminster, behind 6-foot-5 sophomore Will Benson, had the deficit down to seven early in the final period. Even worse for the Jackets were the four fouls on inside stalwarts Keyth Fightmaster and Austin Byrd.
With those two out, though, Riley and Curtis took over, continually breaking pressure and going hard to the basket to spark a 13-0 run that ended any upset hopes.
"We had to go with our smaller lineup at the end due to foul trouble," said Layson, who got good work from subs Chapin Rierson and Ray Reeves. "The key down the stretch was we limited them to one shot despite those guys being on the bench, and Kaelen pulled down some big ones.
"The scouting report on us is that we only play seven people and they believe they can wear us down, but these guys are great athletes and on top of that they don't quit. They've got more fight and heart than any team I've ever been around."
Riley led Calhoun with 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Curtis scored 16 points, including nine in the final five minutes.
"The halfcourt shot was lucky, but I'll take it," said Riley, who also ended the third period with a buzzer-beater. "It was tight there for a bit with those guys in foul trouble, but we just went to the Carolina [spread[ offense and Chandler just took over. He's one of the most unstoppable athletes I've ever seen, and when we spread it out very few people can guard us."
Benson led Westminster (15-13) wth 14 points and seven rebounds, with Quay Strozier adding 13 points.
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...