Late free throws from Viola ends Mammoth Spring's tourney title hopes
It sure looked like 32 minutes would not be enough time to decide which team would take home the 1A-2 North District Tournament championship trophy Feb. 16.
After all, the top-seeded Mammoth Spring Bears and second-seeded Viola Longhorns had split their two meetings during the regular season, and as suspected, the two squads battled to a virtual standstill through four periods of play in the district title game at Mammoth Spring Gymnasium.
However, the Horns took advantage of a huge break late in the game to prevail 40-39 in thrilling fashion.
Viola outscored Mammoth Spring 7-0 during the last 2:56 of play, with all the Horns' points coming from the charity stripe during that stretch.
While all those free throws were huge, none was any bigger than the last one of the night.
Jeremiah Johnson (six points) sank a pair from the line with 30 seconds remaining to tie the score at 39-all, this after Viola had trailed by six points midway into the fourth.
After Johnson's second free throw, Mammoth Spring took the ball downcourt, but the Bears' shot attempt to tie the game missed its mark and Viola's Lucas Rains grabbed the rebound with just a shade over two ticks left in regulation.
On most nights, with Rains standing with the ball in his hands under his opponent's basket and just two seconds left in a tied-game, the contest should have been headed to overtime.
This was not most nights, though.
Rains was wrapped up, sending him to the other end of the court for two free throws with the clock stopped at the 2.2-second mark.
Rains (14 points) hit one-of-two, breaking the tie and pushing Viola on top 40-39.
Mammoth Spring grabbed Rains' missed free throw and immediately called timeout.
With the ball on the baseline under Viola's basket, the Bears called two more timeouts before inbounding the ball for a last-gasp chance to win the game.
The Bears got the ball to midcourt with the inbounds pass, but Mammoth Spring just didn't have enough to get a shot off and the Longhorns took home a hard-fought 40-39 win, avoiding what looked like a sure bet at an extra frame in the process.
Kasey Humphries got Viola off to a good start in the first period by dropping in six of his 14 points for the night in the frame.
The Horns were up 7-4 in the first when Austin Springfield drilled the first trey of the game to push Viola in front 10-4.
Mammoth Spring closed the period fast, getting a jumper from Seth Godwin (seven points) that started a late 6-2 push for the Bears.
Aaron Shipp (four points) and Gage Busch (11 points) hit back-to-back hoops that ended the first with Mammoth Spring down by just two, 12-10.
The game was tied at 20-all, the last of three ties in the second, when Rains got loose in the lane for a bucket to give Viola 22-20 lead with three minutes left until the half.
Godwin pulled his team within one at the break by hitting one-of-two from the charity stripe, sending the squads to intermission with Viola clinging to a 22-21 lead.
The Bears would make their move in the third period, moving on top for the first time in the contest.
Rains opened the third with a deuce for Viola, but the Horns would go a long time between hoops in the third, almost five and a half minutes, as Mammoth Spring clawed on top.
Godwin started a 9-0 burst for the Bears with a shot in the lane at the 5:45 mark of the third.
Adam Watson (five points) capped this Mammoth Spring run with a huge 3-ball that gave the Bears a 30-24 lead with 2:10 left in the frame.
Viola finally found the scoreboard again in the frame in a big way late in the third.
Rains hit a baseline hoop with 30 ticks left and Matt Bynum jacked a triple that beat the buzzer, pulling Viola within one, 30-29, after three.
The teams battled back-and-forth in the fourth and an old-fashioned 3-point play by Busch gave the Bears a six-point lead, 39-33, with 3:53 left in the game.
This also turned out to be Mammoth Spring's last points of the night, as Viola racked up the last seven of the game, all from the free throw line, to edge past the Bears by one point for the district title.
Wes Davis finished with six points for the Bears, while Justin Shipp added four, and Ethan Gaines two.
In the semi-final round Feb. 13, the Horns pushed past third-seeded Mount Pleasant 60-54.
Johnson paced Viola with 22 points, while Humphries followed with 16, and Springfield nine. Rains logged seven, Bynum four, and Jesse Shrable two for the Longhorns.
Tony Neal tallied 18 points to lead the Bluebirds, with Steven Rollins posting 12. Keaton Johnson and Alex Billingsley finished with nine points each, while Chase Massey hit for seven.