OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Just one week after the team’s double-digit defeat at Howard, East Hamilton did something that hadn’t been done in the program’s four-year history.
The Hurricanes finally took down the Hustlin’ Tigers on the hardwood in Thursday evening’s District 6-AA showdown.
East Hamilton, which suffered a 15-point setback to Howard last Thursday, overcame a five-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, grabbed a late lead and held on for a 49-46 win.
“We knew what we had to do,” Hurricanes junior Tre Herndon said. “We knew they were a tough team; they’ve always been a great program. We knew they could come back at anytime, so coach just tried to keep us focused. We stuck with it all the way through and executed.”
The Hurricanes (15-7, 7-3), who brought an end to the Tigers’ 10-game winning streak with the victory, trailed 45-40 with 3:26 remaining.
The game should have been over at that point. At least in Tigers coach Walter McGary’s eyes.
“We made too many crucial mistakes,” McGary said. “Nobody’s supposed to come back on us when we’ve got a five-point lead and the ball with that much time left.”
That’s exactly what East Hamilton did, though.
Freshman Kenny Bunton closed the deficit to 45-42 on a layup with 2:33 left, and the 6-5 forward buried a contested 3-pointer from the corner to knot things up at 45-45 with 1:45 to play.
“Kenny’s a special kid,” Stone said. “He’s the most humble, confident kid you’ll ever meet. He understands when it’s time to step up and hit a big shot, and he’s 100 percent confident to shoot it. Then he’ll turn around and smile like a 14-year old. He’s a fun kid to coach, and he has just a fantastic skill set.”
Bunton finished with a team-high 18 points, including three 3-pointers, seniors Cody Knox and Ladarius Watkins each scored nine, while Herndon added seven.
The Hurricanes grabbed the lead on Watkins’ layup off an inbounds pass with 1:12 left, and Herndon knocked down 2 of his 4 shots from the free-throw line in the final seconds to seal the win.
“I need some work on my free-throws,” said Herndon, who made the front end of consecutive one-and-one opportunities. “Thankfully I got (two of) them through, was able to execute for the team and get the W.”
The Tigers (16-4, 8-2), who trailed 30-21 at the break, used a 12-0 run to take a 33-32 lead at the one-minute mark of the third quarter – the team’s first since the game’s opening minute.
Howard got to the free-throw line early and often in the second half, mainly with senior Brandon Walters working in the low post.
The 6-8 Walters, who finished with a game-high 24 points, scored 13 in the final two periods, eight of which came from the free-throw line. He added a pair from the stripe with 5:19 remaining to five the Tigers a 42-36 advantage – its largest of the contest.
“I’ve never coached in a game where I agreed with every call,” Stone said. “Win or lose. We just had to tell our guys to play as hard as they could, and they did that. Tonight I felt like they overcame some exterior obstacles at times, but we were real fortunate to come up with the W tonight.”
Both team’s return to action Friday, as East Hamilton welcomes Chattanooga Central for the Hurricanes’ homecoming, while Howard hosts Austin-East.