Howard’s last two games haven’t been easy, but what doesn’t eliminate you only makes you stronger. At least that’s how Hustlin’ Tigers coach Walter McGary felt after Monday’s win over DeKalb County.
“That’s a test,” Howard McGary said of his team’s last two wins. “I believe everything that happens to us happens for a reason. These last two ball games against McMinn Central and DeKalb, they can only help us going to state.”
The Hustlin’ Tigers, who edged McMinn Central in last week’s Region 3-AA title game, won in similar fashion in Monday’s Sectional game showdown with DeKalb County, escaping with a 61-58 victory over the visiting Tigers (30-7).
Senior Brandon Walters scored a team-high 20 points for the Hustlin’ Tigers (27-5), who advanced to the Class AA State Tournament for the fourth straight year, despite constant double teams in the low post from DeKalb County.
“They were sagging in on Brandon, so they forced us to take the outside shots,” said Howard’s Shalique Cameron, who finished with 15 points and three of his squad’s six 3-pointers. “Luckily we knocked some down.”
Howard led by as many as six late in the second quarter following Cudjoe Young’s three-point play with 6:32 remaining, but DeKalb County strung together five unanswered to pull within 28-27 at the break.
Walters also battled foul trouble, picking up his third foul and taking a seat on the bench with 2:36 to play in the second quarter. He also sat for the first four minutes of the third, during which time DeKalb had built a 40-34 advantage.
“It was frustrating,” Cameron said of Walters’ absence. “Especially with defensive rebounding. They got some offensive rebounds; they were taller than us. It was very frustrating.”
DeKalb’s Sonni Fullilove closed the third quarter with a last-second 3-pointer-one of three treys on the night-and Howard trailed by eight entering the final period.
“I just told them there’s a lot of time left on the clock, not to give up, trust in each other and have each others’ backs on defense,” McGary said. “We’ll get back in it, and we did.”
Walters scored on consecutive putbacks, Young knocked down a 3 and Lorenzo McCauley added a layup, capping a 9-0 run, to put Howard in front 52-51 with 6:20 remaining.
Braxton Atnip hit a pair of free-throws to put DeKalb back in the lead, and the two went back and forth until the final buzzer.
Fullilove, who led all scorers with 24, knocked down a 3-pointer to put DeKalb County ahead 58-57 with 28 seconds remaining, but Howard answered at the other end with a lay in from Walters.
The Hustlin’ Tigers shot 5-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes, including senior Chris Walton’s pair from the stripe with 4.6 seconds left to help secure the victory.