With under eight seconds to go and Benjamin Russell down by three points and continuing to foul, it looked like the game was in the bag for Sylacauga.
After being up by just a point, the Aggies added onto it with a free throw by Sedrick Pope. Even though he missed the second one, teammate Shannon Grant came down with the rebound and was immediately fouled. Grant made the front end to go up by three but again missed the second. Another Aggie was there to save him again, grabbing the rebound and immediately getting fouled.
It seemed like at some point, something had to give and Sylacauga would put it away. But it missed two free shots and this time, it was different. Benjamin Russell’s Tre McMillian grabbed the rebound, shuffled it up to Za Stowes who quickly got his feet set and launched one.
“We were struggling getting the rebound,” Stowes said. “They had like two or three chances at the line then finally Tre got the ball and he made a good pass. At practice we’ve been practicing coming into the ball and I guess that all sunk in. I’ve been listening to coach (Jeremy Freeman) all week and attacked to the ball and got the shot.”
Swish. He made it.
The boisterous crowd erupted — so much so it had to pushed back after rushing the court. Although the moment was full of excitement, all Stowes’ 3-pointer did was secure an overtime period. But Benjamin Russell used all that momentum to power through Sylacauga for a 71-69 victory.
“The No. 1 goal on that last play (in regulation) was to make sure once we got the rebound that we pushed it and got a look,” Freeman said. “That was a key. We just could not stand up under there and not get a look.”
It was a lot of free throws in the early going of the overtime frame and Sylacauga even held a one-point lead with about a minute left. But there were some big moments for BRHS (1-1) during extra time. Carl Russell had a big steal and layup that tied it at 66-66 midway through and Gavin Edwards hit the tying free throws with under a minute to go. T.J. Calhoun hit the ultimate game-winner with 25 seconds left and the Wildcats held Sylacauga scoreless the rest of the way.
“(Calhoun) scored some crucial buckets down the stretch and right now it looks like he’s the one that wanted it,” Freeman said. “The audition was open, he filled the slot and I’m proud of him.”
Edwards’ free throw was big too as he struggled from the line up to that point, but he got the one that mattered the most. Edwards also had a huge third-quarter dunk that seemed to change momentum in Benjamin Russell’s favor.
“Gavin gave us a surge that we didn’t have — a two-hand power finish,” Freeman said. “From that point on, it was fire in there. I told them, ‘That’s the level that we have to stay on.’ Sustaining that high level of play is what we’ve got to do to get where we want to go.”
Benjamin Russell’s defense played extremely upbeat and high octane throughout the game, which will be important as the Wildcats are still looking for their identity offensively. BRHS didn’t score for the first seven minutes of the game but still managed to be down only 8-5 at the end of the first.
“(The defense) has been very good for us,” Stowes said. “Coach always says if we can keep a team to under 15 points in the fourth quarter, he says the game is his. We can win the game and he’s going to be the man for us; we just gotta do our part.”
Stowes led the offense with 25 points while Carl Russell contributed 10. Edwards and Calhoun scored nine apiece.