SALISBURY — With 0.7 seconds left and his team ahead 52-51, Stephen Decatur High’s Randy DuPont made both ends of a 1-and-1 to put his team up three in Feb. 26’s Bayside Conference boys’ basketball championship at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center.
Down to a desperate try for a buzzer-beating basket, Easton tried it. Tay’Von Emory lofted the ball from a step behind the half-court line.
As the shot fell, the buzzer sounded. The Decatur cheerleaders rushed onto the court.
It was time to celebrate their school’s first-ever boys’ conference crown, fresh on the heels of its first South Bayside title, earned five days prior.
Except for one small thing: Emory made the basket.
The heave hit nothing but the bottom of the net, tied the game and sent it into overtime. Emory then scored six more of his game-high 26 points in the extra period to guide Easton to a 64-61 win.
The triumph was the fourth straight for the North Bayside, and the third in as many appearances over a four-season span for Warriors coach Marty Bailey.
“I had confidence in the guys, even when we missed a free throw with only a few seconds left (in regulation),” Bailey said. “But this game, this is for all the people — the doubters, some people claiming to be Warrior alumni, I’m told — who didn’t have faith in us.
“They called our kids bums, said I couldn’t coach,” Bailey added. “This is for them. ... I’ve never been prouder of these guys. They fought for this and they deserve it, they deserve to enjoy it.”
The win improved Easton to 16-7, and avenged a 62-55 home loss to the Seahawks on Dec. 16. Decatur now stands at 18-5. Both teams are off until Monday, when the playoffs begin.
Easton, the top seed in the Class 2A East’s District II, plays at home tonight against Kent Island. Decatur, ranked No. 1 in the 3A East’s District II bracket, hosts Northern (Calvert) in the second round of play tonight as well.
“We had it,” Decatur coach B.J. Johnson said. “But on that last play (of regulation), I told the guys, ‘Don’t let anybody get behind you.’
“And then 23 (Emory) puts it up, and it goes in,” Johnson added. “It was unbelievable. And the kid who was supposed to be covering him... was on the other side of the court celebrating. ... It’s been a great season.
“But for us, these kids have never been in this situation before,” Johnson continued. “We’d never won the South in boys’ basketball before. Ever. And for them to get into this game — well, all year, the reason we had such a great year was because they listened, and they worked together And tonight, we just didn’t do that. Some of the guys, they wanted to do their own thing. Or they did something that was completely not like them all year.”
The first example of the latter was what happened with 3:06 to go in the first period.
Decatur’s Tyler Hunter, a bulky, 6-foot-4 pivotman who led the team in points and rebounds all season, got whistled for his second foul on a scramble for a loose ball.
Frustrated, he slammed the ball down, and was called for a technical foul — thus picking up his third personal. With one point and two rebounds to that point, he was out of the action until after halftime.
“Tyler’s been so good for us all year,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what happened there. It’s not like him. Just the excitement of the moment, I think.”
Hunter was not a big factor thereafter, but teammate Colen Gaynor took control. He had 12 points at the break, and finished with 20.
But Easton had an answer — L.J. Flournoy. The junior insider, thrust into a high-expectation role in the place of recent strong centers such as Ryan Miller and Ike Pulley, had been the team’s go-to guy in the post all year, averaging a double-double.
He nearly had one at the break, scoring 12 points and yanking down nine rebounds as Easton pulled ahead 19-8 after one period, and held a 28-21 halftime advantage. Flournoy ended the night with 14 points and a team-leading 13 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth.
After halftime, still another Seahawk got into things. DuPont, who had a single bucket before intermission, took matters almost entirely into his own hands in the third period.
DuPont’s 3-point jumper 12 seconds after intermission sparked a one-man, 7-0 run as Decatur took a 39-34 lead with 1:46 to go in the third. Easton pulled close on a Tyriek Jacobs jumper and a pair of Emory free throws, but Decatur led 39-38 going into the final period.
Emory picked up where Flournoy left off in the fourth, a layup at 5:37 to go tying the game at 42-42. After Decatur pulled ahead 48-42, his trey made it a one-possession game with 1:58 remaining in regulation. After Decatur responded with a layup, Emory hit another, to make it 50-48 with 1:05 left on the clock.
Flournoy’s jumper from the right side 35 seconds later tied the game at 50, but Decatur regained the with 15 seconds left on Hunter’s bucket in the paint.
Emory, fouled with 3.1 seconds to go, hit the front end of a 1-and-1 to make it 52-51, but missed the second. The Decatur crowd roared its approval, the conference crown seemingly in hand when DuPont pulled down the defensive rebound on the missed shot and was fouled by Easton with 0.3 seconds to go.
The officials, after a quick discussion, put an extra 0.4 seconds on the clock just before DuPont took his shots, making it 0.7 total.
“I was still feeling pretty good, even then,” Bailey said. “We knew that we had a chance. What was funny to me, was how they (Decatur) went ahead and made the second, instead of missing it on purpose.”
After DuPont hit the front end of his 1-and-1 to make it 53-51, Bailey said he expected him to miss the next one intentionally. This is a relatively common practice, the team with the lead hoping the scramble for the rebound kills the remaining time.
But DuPont took the shot, and made it. Easton had a chance to make one final long-range shot. But everything had to go just right.
Little did most observers know the half-court shot, like the one the Warriors were about to try, was a staple at team practices.
“We do those a good bit, actually,” Bailey said. “Sometimes, I won’t let them end practice without making a few of them.”
Jacobs agreed quickly with Bailey’s claim, saying with a laugh,”we have done that in practice. Sometimes, we don’t get a water break until we make one. I think everybody on the team has made that shot in practice.”
Emory, as it turned out, got to try it Wednesday. His heave, from about 46 feet, swished through on the other end. The Decatur stands at first erupted in thunderous celebration, but then it was Easton’s turn, its own cheerleaders mobbing the team.
“I just knew I had a chance,” Emory said. “We’ve been practicing it, and we’ve been trying that shot and making it. I knew I could make it; I just had to do it.”
Despite the commotion on the court, there was another period left, game tied 54-54.
Easton took the first of four different leads in overtime on a TyQuan Beckett field goal, and DuPont replied with a 3-pointer to make it 57-56, Seahawks. Jacobs hit two free throws to give Easton a one-point lead. But then Gaynor dunked on a fast break to put Decatur ahead 59-58 with 1:21 to go in overtime.
Then Emory got his hands on the ball again.
And again. And again.
Fouled on three of his team’s next four possessions, he went to the line for 10 free throws. He made a pair, then missed a pair, and then sank the front end of two more pairs of shots from the charity stripe. Ahead 62-59 with 14.7 seconds left, Easton needed to just hold on a bit longer. A Torrey Brittingham drive into the lane for two points put Decatur within 62-61 with 5.1 seconds left.
But Emory got the ball once more, and after being fouled yet again, hit both free throws with 3.9 seconds to go. A last-gasp Decatur try for a response to Emory’s buzzer-beater was deflected, and the final seconds ticked off, denying the Seahawks their second historic feat in as many weeks.
“This is just a great way to end the season,” Flournoy said. “I think this gives us some real momentum for the playoffs.”