With a few flicks from the wrist of Trae Butler, the game between Horseshoe Bend and Central Coosa started anew.
The Generals had led since midway through the second quarter and got up by as much as 11 in the third period before taking a 44-37 edge into the final frame.
But with the lead down to 45-41, Butler hit a pair of triples to give Coosa an edge and mark the start of a fourth-quarter slugfest the Cougars ended up winning.
Coosa carried the day by a single point, beating Horseshoe Bend 64-63 in the Generals’ gymnasium on the back of 18 points from forward DeMarkus Sandlin and 16 from center Nehemiah Sanders.
“They showed some fight in the fourth quarter, but the first three quarters were bad,” Coosa coach Richard Bell said of his team. “We’re still tweaking our rotations, we’re still tweaking our defensive schemes, we’re trying to find something to fit these boys and what they can do. The last couple years we had a couple big men and now we’ve switched to guard-oriented, so we’re still trying to work through some things.”
Horseshoe Bend senior Holt Tidwell led all scorers in the losing effort with 31 points, knocking down four 3s. Junior Klark James followed with 16.
Following the second of Butler’s triples, Horseshoe Bend center Jacob Turner stuck in a layup through contact to put the Generals back up 48-47.
Turner had to handle Sandlin and Sanders down low all game and limited their damage by altering several shots, also serving as a big rebounding presence.
“Jacob’s done really well contesting a lot of stuff down there,” Horseshoe Bend coach Chad Kison said. “He’s a big guy, puts his arms up and plays really physical. He’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten a bigger body where he can use that a little more.”
Butler was there to respond with his third triple of the fourth quarter, pump faking to make a defender fly by before taking one dribble left and splashing through a shot from the right wing.
The trio of tiples stood as the speedster’s only nine points. His specialty is normally defense as one of the team’s best on-ball defenders, but when he gets hot shooting it’s a huge benefit, Bell said.
“We’re looking to him for more defensive pressure. That’s his thing. Any points he gives us are great, but today he just got hot, and once he gets hot, he’s a streaky shooter and can make a lot of them.”
Sandlin answered a gorgeous scoop layup from James with two free throws before Tidwell hit two of four free throws in a sequence of two shooting fouls to tie the contest 52-52.
Guard Dequalin Thomas buried another 3 for the Cougars, James answered with a layup. Then Sandlin hit a smooth double-clutch at the rim and scored another two in close the next possession, putting Coosa ahead 59-54 with 2:18 to play.
“I really challenged DeMarkus over the summertime. The first game he played really bad, the last five he’s been on a tear,” Bell said. “He’s averaging around 20 points a game. So I’m really proud of his advancements, he’s a big part of our team.”
Still, that wouldn’t put the Generals away.
Down 62-58 with the clock winding under 20 seconds, Turner pulled in an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Tidwell for an open 3 the senior buried to keep his squad’s hopes alive with nine seconds remaining.
Sandlin hit both free throws at the other end, though, and a miss from 3 followed by a putback on the other end left Horseshoe Bend one point short as the clock expired.
“Overall I thought we played good, played hard, put ourselves in a great position to win,” Kison said. “Just came up a little bit short at the end.”
One area he felt hurt the Generals down the stretch was their free throw shooting, though. They shot just 6-for-12 from the line in the final quarter.
“I dwell on this, that free throws win and lose games all the time,” Kison said. “You’ve got to be consistent with them through all four quarters. Those one or two here or there, especially down the stretch, you’ve got to have those free throws.”
Central Coosa returns home Friday for a matchup with Benjamin Russell. Horseshoe Bend will be at home as well for its next game, a tilt with Reeltown Thursday.