With the exception of a couple of ties, the Golden Bears led Northeast for 31 minutes and 58 seconds until Rasean Tauylor’s dunk beat the final buzzer and sent the Eagle fans storming Lebanon’s Hester Gibbs Court with a dramatic 52-50 punch-in-the-gut win over a Mt. Juliet team which had led by 11 going into the fourth quarter at Campbell Brandon Gym.
But tournament most valuable player Jontae Brown buried four three-pointers and 14 of his 18 points in the fourth, including the tying triple with 20 seconds to play. Jaylon Tharpe had 10 of his 13 in the fourth.
Following Brown’s final three, Northeast sent a double team to J.R. Sanders just inside halfcourt. The ball came loose. An Eagle picked it up and passed to Taylor, whose flushed sent the Bears to Independence at 7 p.m. Monday for the sectional.
Three-pointers by Joey Hayes and Sanders staked Mt. Juliet to a 6-0 lead and the Bears led from then on except for a 12-12 tie 1:48 before halftime on two free throws by Alec Kegler. But Sanders sank two free throws on the other end, Brian Aiken scored on a putback and Trey Pruitt drove for a runner which turned into a three-point play for a 19-12 halftime lead. Hayes opened the second half with a three for a 22-12 Mt. Juliet lead.
Mt. Juliet’s biggest lead was 34-23 on Sanders’ drive for a three-point play in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Though the score was never one-sided, the game seemed to be played at Mt. Juliet’s pace. But the Bears missed just enough free throws (hitting 6 of 9) in the fourth quarter and they had trouble handling Northeast’s trap down the stretch.
“We didn’t feel like it was under control because we knew we were going to have to make free throws and handle their pressure,” Mt. Juliet coach Troy Allen said after the most disappointing of the Bears’ 10 defeats (against 23 wins) this season. “They got a couple of elite athletes out there. We turned it over, missed some free throws. Their best player got hot. We didn’t jump out there hard enough on him.
“It is what it is. It hurts.”
Brown and Tharpe were scoreless going into halftime. No other Eagle scored in double figures as Northeast booked a home sectional against Brentwood on Monday with a 24-9 mark.
Sanders sank 6 of 7 free throws on his way to 13 points while Pruitt also went 6-of-7 from the stripe in finishing with 12. Isaac Stephens scored five of his seven in the fourth while Hayes hit two triples for his six, , Terrell Wilson five, Tony Thompson four and Aiken three.
“It was a crazy game,” Allen said. “We wanted to keep them in the 40s and we almost did.”
Allen controlled the foul situation by pulling players when they got two personals in the first half, including Sanders, who was coming off a 29-point night against Lebanon two nights earlier. The District 9-AAA’s MVP spent the equivalent of a quarter on the bench to preserve his fouls.
“We were going to put him back in if they ever took the lead, but they didn’t,” Allen said of Sanders. “We grinded it out on defense, played really good defense for most of the game.”
Allen and the Bears have until Monday night to get over the turn of events before tipping off at Independence.
“We’re hurting right now,” Allen said. “Those kids, they’re hurting. The deal is now is how can I get them over what just happened because it’s a tough way to end the game.
“If we don’t get over this in the next couple of days, hopefully by (Friday) by the end of the day, then we don’t have a chance. But if we get over ourselves like we have all year, this team has a lot of character. We lost six games in a row and we’ve come back to where we are now, one of 16 teams left. We’ve just got to get over it and move on. It’s going to be rough, but we can do it.”
Joining Brown on the all-tournament team were Tharpe and Kegler of Northeast, Pruitt and Sanders of Mt. Juliet and Lebanon’s Eddie Jackson.