Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Landon Johnson (right) drives against White Plains’ Nick Preston during the Eagles’ 46-38 victory over White Plains in the semifinals of the Class 4A, Area 12 Tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 7. (Courtesy of Alex Chaney)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
A fourth quarter run and a dominating overtime propelled Class 4A, No. 9 Hokes Bluff to a 46-38 victory over White Plains in the semifinals of the Area 12 tournament on Wednesday (Feb. 7) at Hokes Bluff.
The Eagles (23-5) started to lose control of the back-and-forth game early in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats took a 32-28 lead with 4:58 remaining. Hokes Bluff coach Jeff Noah called a timeout and gave his team a simple message.
“It was 30-28 and we had the ball, and I called a set play,” Noah said. “And we didn’t even come close to running it. Nobody was on the same page. So, when we called timeout, I said, ‘Please run what I tell you to run.’”
Out of the timeout, Jace Stewart found center Hayden Lipscomb in the post for an easy bucket to cut the lead to 32-30, which allowed the Eagles to set up full court pressure. The hosts forced a turnover, and Lipscomb found Donovan Greaves for a fast break layup to tie the game at 32.
Hokes Bluff led 35-32 with less than two minutes remaining, but White Plains scored on back-to-back possessions to regain the lead 36-35.
On the Eagles’ ensuing possession, Braydon Hill drove the lane, drew contact and went to the foul line with only 26 seconds remaining with his team down by one point.
Hill’s first free throw rimmed out, but the junior forward calmly sank the second attempt to tie the game at 36. Hokes Bluff then went back to its full court pressure and forced a 10-second violation, and the Eagles had the ball back with 16 seconds left in regulation.
The Wildcats forced a turnover with three seconds remaining but couldn’t get a decent look as the clock expired.
During overtime, the Eagles clamped down on the defensive end and didn’t allow a field goal for over three minutes. Landon Johnson drew a foul and gave the Eagles a 37-36 lead 13 seconds into overtime. He then connected on a 3-pointer with 2:19 remaining to give Hokes Bluff a 40-36 lead.
The Eagles struggled with free throws throughout the game – they only hit 16-for-31 (51 percent) from the line – but made enough foul shots in overtime to pull away for a 46-38 win.
“If we make free throws, the game probably doesn’t go into overtime,” Noah said. “(White Plains) Coach (Chris) Randall does a tremendous job. Their kids play hard. Give them credit. Our kids played hard and found a way to make a few plays there at the end. We found a way to win and advance, and that’s the name of the game this time of the year.”
Hokes Bluff advanced to the Area 12 championship this Friday (Feb. 9), as the Eagles host Jacksonville at 7:30 p.m. Hokes Bluff swept the regular season series against Golden Eagles, but Noah said his team must improve in four key areas if his team wants to win and host a sub-re-gional game.
“[At] this time of the year, you have to play good defense, you have to rebound and you have to make free throws,” he said. “You can’t have high turnovers. That’s the four things I preach this time of the year. I have to do a better job coaching and teaching, and hopefully we’ll execute a little bit better [on] Friday night.”
Lipscomb led the Eagles with 15 points and five rebounds. Johnson scored 11 points and grabbed eight boards, while Hill chipped in 10 points.