Marion County’s Preston Pickett made things interesting in the final quarter of Thursday evening’s game at Chattanooga Christian.
The Chargers’ woeful free-throw shooting only added to the late-game intrigue.
Pickett opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, bringing the Warriors to within six with 6:43 remaining. The junior guard, who finished with a team-high 23 points, scored 13 in the final quarter, nine of which came from beyond the arc, and helped erase his team’s massive second-half deficit.
The Chargers (5-11), meanwhile, were still clinging to the lead while in the midst of a forgettable spell from the foul line.
“The problem was we had a stretch where we were 1 of 8 from the line,” CCS head coach Jim Arnold said. “When you get to the line and don’t convert, the lead doesn’t grow. Then they come knock down a couple of big shots, and it’s like a turnover.”
The visiting Warriors (1-11), who had trailed by as much as 16 midway through the third quarter after being outscored 11-0 to start the second half, crawled all the way back to pull within five on a baseline drive by Pickett with 1:13 remaining, which came after a 3-pointer by teammate Avery Brown just moments earlier.
“My boys are a scrappy bunch,” Marion County coach Chuck Keef said. “They had a 16-point lead on us at one point, and we fought back and got back into it. Normally we would have folded."
But the one-win Warriors couldn’t complete the comeback as Chattanooga Christian clinched the 57-50 victory by finally knocking down some shots from the stripe.
Chargers junior Tucker Youngblood hit 3 of 4 from the line in the final minute.
But Youngblood’s clutch free-throws during crunch time weren’t his only contributions on Thursday. The 5-9 guard, who led all scorers with 24 points, also engineered a 12-0 second-quarter run that put his team in control at the break up 29-24.
Following a CCS timeout with 5:18 remaining in the half, Youngblood knocked down treys on three consecutive trips down the court, putting the Chargers out in front for the first time since early in the opening period.
“When Tucker started knocking those 3s down in the first half, that was big,” said Arnold.
Chattanooga Christian was without one of its main scoring threats on Thursday, Drew Thomas, a 5-9 senior who injured his hand in the team’s trip to Cherokee, N.C., for a tournament over the break.
“Tucker can shoot it, but he doesn’t normally take the volume of 3s that he took tonight,” Arnold said. “He kind of took Drew's shots tonight, and he was hot.”
CCS junior Clark Marshall added 12 points, and the 6-6 center was the one the Chargers turned to when facing Marion County’s full-court press late in the fourth quarter.
“We used Clark there to relieve the pressure,” said Arnold, whose team’s two point guards — junior Nic Matthews and sophomore Aaron Jones — are both short on experience. “We didn’t turn it over very much. Overall I was pleased with the way we handled their pressure.”
Six-foot-7 forward Josh Fikkert, who made his season debut at last month’s Cherokee Tournament after missing the first 12 games with a back injury, also finished in double figures with 11.