Photo: Gadsden State’s Shond McKinney (left) drives against former Gadsden City High School teammate Jacob Hyde during the Cardinals’ overtime loss to Snead State in the ACCC Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday (March 7) in Birmingham. (Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter)
By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
Gadsden State erased a 17-point halftime deficit against Snead State in the ACCC Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday (March 7), but the Cardinals came up just short in an 83-81 loss in overtime at Lawson State in Birmingham.
With a Cardinal defender in his face, Trai James buried a 3-pointer from the right corner with 15.7 seconds left in overtime to give the North No. 1 seed Parsons to an 82-81 lead.
Gadsden State responded by missing a contested off-balance shot in the paint with 2.5 seconds on the clock.
Brandon Wright’s free throw with one second remaining sealed the Parsons’ nerve-wracking 83-81 victory, propelling them into Thursday’s semifinal matchup against North No. 3 seed Marion Military Institute.
Shond McKinney’s only three-point basket of the game erased a 78-78 tie and gave the Cardinals an 81-78 lead with 36.3 seconds remaining in OT.
James answered by hitting 1-of-2 free throws, cutting it to 81-79. The Parsons (23-7) set up James’ clutch trey by forcing a turnover in front of their bench with 23.7 seconds left in overtime.
It was the Parsons’ first ACCC tournament game as a No. 1 seed since 1998. Snead State extended its wi-nning streak to eight games by beating its local rival.
“[James] has been an outstanding player in the league the past two seasons, and he just made a great shot in that situation,” said GSCC head coach Deddric Tarver. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
The Parsons grabbed a quick 5-0 lead to open the matchup. The Cardinals rallied, taking their initial lead at 8-7 on Maurice K. Johnson’s 3-pointer with 16:38 remaining.
Tied 10-10, Snead State used a 10-4 run – capped by Payton Youngblood’s four-point play – to build a 20-14 advantage.
Gadsden State sliced it to 22-19 on a long three-pointer by Cade White, but the Parsons responded with a 12-0 run, stretching their margin to 34-19 with 5:19 left. Youngblood and James punctuated the run with back-to-back treys.
Snead State’s cushion ballooned to 40-22 on Jacob Hyde’s free throw at the 2:33 mark.
The Cardinals seized the momentum entering halftime by outscoring SSCC 10-5 in the final 2:06. Christopher Lewis and DeAris Richardson both contributed four points in the GSCC run, which trimmed it to 45-32 at the break.
Gadsden State dominated the second half, outscoring the Parsons 40-27.
“One of the attributes of our team is that if we’re down [by double digits] at halftime, we normally go on a run and get back into the game,” said Tarver. “[Snead State] did a good job of clogging the lane in the first half and we couldn’t get much penetration.
“In the second half, we went straight to a 1-2-2 man defense and didn’t give any help to their big guy on the inside. So their shooters weren’t open as much as they were in the first half. On offense, we decided that we were going to push the basketball and get more movement.”
Luke Graham’s layup gave the Cardinals a 49-48 edge with 14 minutes left in regulation.
The rivals exchanged the lead twice before GSCC pulled ahead 54-50. The contest saw ties at 54 and 56 before the Cardinals took a 63-58 lead with 7:44 to play.
Norman Kelly sank a pair of free throws, giving Gadsden State a 67-60 lead with 5:55 remaining. But Snead State responded by outscoring the Cardinals 12-5 down the stretch to force overtime.
James made a steal and was fouled as he drove to the basket with 15.2 seconds to go in the final half. He sank both free throws, tying it 72-72.
A pair of Parsons pressured the Cardinals to shoot an air ball on an NBA-range trey just before the buzzer.
James paced Snead State with 20 points. Youngblood and Wright scored 19 each. A 2015 Gadsden City High graduate, Hyde contributed eight points and seven rebounds.
Johnson’s 23 points led the Cardinals (16-15). Lewis netted 16, Kelly 15 and McKinney and Graham both 10. Kelly converted 9-of-9 free throws.
Richardson had 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Johnson collected eight rebounds and four blocks. Graham cleared eight rebounds while McKinney and Lewis grabbed six each.
Snead State made 7-of-19 3s and 18-of-29 free throws. Gadsden State hit 6-of-26 treys and 21-of-29 free throws.
The Cardinals defeated Wallace State Selma, 74-72, in a conference play-in game last Saturday (March 3) at Selma.
Overall, Tarver was pleased with his first season as head coach, especially with the contributions of his key sophomores.
“Nic Looney battled through injuries the whole season but hung in there. Maurice Johnson carries us a lot with his scoring and rebounding, and John Arnold always did a great job.
“I also want to thank the school and the community and especially [GSCC Athletic Director] Mike Cancilla] for their support.”
Tarver is already rolling up his sleeves for next season
“We’re going to have a few big recruits on campus next week, and hopefully sign all three of them,” he said.
Publisher/Editor Chris McCarthy contributed to this article.