The Eminence Warriors boys’ basketball team led just twice in their home contest against Henry County last week, but as the saying goes, they led when it counts most.
Cornelius Sanford’s put-back of a Demarcus Bailey miss with 3.7 seconds left gave the Warriors a thrilling come-from-behind win over their cross-county rivals.
The score was tied at 52.
Four of the game’s taller players fouled out: Henry County’s Derek Jeffries and Austin Young; and Eminence’s Brandon Mitchell and Daishon Moore.
Eminence elected to hold for the last shot of regulation.
Bailey, who led the Warriors final comeback with 6 points in the fourth period, missed inside, but Sanford was there for the rebound and laid it in.
Warriors fans started to storm the court, but the Warriors waved them back to the stands. There were still 3.7 seconds to play, and Henry County called a time out.
After the timeout, Henry County’s Chase Howard put up a desperation shot from midcourt as time ran out, but the shot was off.
The Warriors and their fans let loose with an unbridled celebration — the 54-52 win marked the first Eminence win over the Wildcats since February 2006.
When the game opened it looked like the Cats might run away with it as they scored the first eight points of the game. The Warriors were in foul trouble early as Daishon Moore and Brandon Mitchell each picked up two quick fouls.
With strong inside play from Jeffries and Young, the Wildcats led by 11 at the end of the opening frame, 17-6.
But the Warriors began to drop 3-point bombs on the Wildcat defense in the second period and went ahead on a Jalen Dixie 3-pointer at 21-20 with 1:20 remaining in the half. The Warriors hit all four of their 3-point shot attempts in the second period.
The Wildcats responded with a layup by Landon New and then went on to score the final 6 points of the half to take a 28-21 lead into the locker room.
The Warriors appeared to be in real trouble as Mitchell and Moore had 3 fouls at the half. But Bailey, a freshman, filled in admirably as he grabbed several rebounds and contributed 10 second-half points to the Warriors’ comeback.
Seven Warriors scored 16 third-quarter points to pull within 4 points going into the fourth quarter.
Henry County extended the lead back to 9 points as Young scored the first 5 points of the final period. But Eminence fought its way back into the game as Mitchell scored 5 of his 7 points in the quarter before fouling out. Moore soon joined him on the bench, but Dixie and Bailey picked up the slack. Bailey had the final six Warriors’ points before Sanford’s heroics won the game for Eminence.
Another key to the comeback was that the Wildcats’ twin towers fouled out: Young, who led the Cats with 16 points, fouled out with 4:02 remaining and Jeffries, who had 13, fouled out with 1:30 to go.
Eminence coach Chris Nethery thought Bailey’s contribution off the bench was important, particularly with Mitchell and Moore saddled with foul trouble most of the game. “Demarcus Bailey had a huge game,” he said. “He had 12 points and 15 rebounds off the bench and big buckets down the stretch.”
He also praised Sanford for his defensive efforts. “Cornelius had the big bucket at the end on an offensive rebound, but he played huge down low and wouldn’t let the ball enter the post in the fourth quarter after Daishon and Brandon fouled out.
“Justin Mitchell also played very hard and very good defensively off the bench. Brandon erased some of our mistakes from the help side with six blocked shots.”
Henry County coach Enoch Welch felt that inexperience and poor foul shooting hampered his team. “We are really inexperienced and the only two experienced players fouled out at the end,” he said. “We still had multiple opportunities at the end but just didn’t execute.
“The lesson to be learned from this game is you can’t go 16-of-30 from the line and expect to win. It was a hard fought game by both teams and in the end Eminence landed the last punch.
“The bottom line is that we feel that the district is even enough that any team can beat any other team on any given night, and that’s a testament to the district’s talent level.”
Nethery thought rebounding and defense were two important factors in the win. “We won the rebounding war,” he said. “We felt that Grant bullied us on the glass and we wanted to correct this in the Henry game. I am very proud of our efforts on the glass. We also denied the entry pass to their big men, which is a big strength for Henry County. I also thought we showed perseverance by clawing our way back from a 17-4 deficit.
“We didn’t panic when things weren’t going our way.”