For a breathless group of Shirley Blue Devils, the time on the scoreboard clock couldn't reach triple zeros fast enough.
Staked to a 14-point lead over the Viola Longhorns early in the third period in the quarterfinals of the 33rd annual Northark Senior Boys' Tournament Jan. 4 at Pioneer Pavilion in Harrison, the third-seeded Blue Devils did their best down the stretch to turn victory into defeat.
And the 11th-seeded Longhorns (11-8) were more than willing to help Shirley down that path.
As it turns out, Viola sure could have used just one more misstep on the Blue Devils' part, as Shirley held off a hard-charging pack of Longhorns to win a trip to the semifinals with a 53-49 victory over Viola.
Although the outcome could have easily been reversed.
With the Blue Devils, currently ranked number three in Class 1A, holding a 51-48 lead with 56 ticks left in the fourth, Shirley missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones to leave the door open for Viola.
With the ball in possession of Viola, Kasey Humphries was fouled with three seconds showing on the clock and the Longhorns in the bonus.
Needing three points to knot the game, Humphries drained the first free throw, pulling his team within two, 51-49. Viola Head Coach Jeremy Lewis then called timeout to discuss how the last seconds of the game would play out.
Back at the charity stripe after the timeout, Humphries intentionally missed the second free throw, hoping a teammate could snag the board and stick it back in. Humphries executed the missed shot perfectly, with the ball clanging off the backboard and then rim.
But the lead official didn't see it that way, ruling the ball did not hit the rim, resulting in a violation that gave possession to Shirley.
The Blue Devils finally managed to put the game away when Cole Gardner hit two free throws on Shirley's next possession, as Viola's spirited comeback ended five points short.
Shirley's problems late in the fourth actually had their origins late in the third, as Viola refused to just let the Blue Devils walk away with a one-sided victory.
Down 44-33 late in the third, the Longhorns kept their hopes alive by closing the frame with a 6-zip burst.
Austin Springfield (10 points) started this run with a hoop, followed by a layup by Humphries and pair of free throws from Jeremiah Johnson (eight points) that drew the Horns within five, 44-39, after three. This after Viola had been down by 14 on Shirley's first bucket of the frame.
The Blue Devils' woes continued on their first four possessions of the fourth period.
On consecutive trips down the floor, Shirley was whistled for an offensive foul, called for a lane violation, threw the ball out of bounds and was victim to a Viola pickpocket.
While the Blue Devils couldn't get out of their own way, Viola was not able to cash in on this early miscues, and the first points of the fourth didn't come until the 4:12 mark when Derek King got loose to sink a layup for Shirley.
Viola kept chipping away and with a minute and a half left to play, Lucas Rains (12 points) popped a huge 3-ball that left the Horns trailing 51-46.
Shirley's turnovers reared their ugly head once again, as Humphries and Matt Bynum (two points) teamed up to knock loose an inbounds pass from the Blue Devils. The ball found its way into Rains' hands and he turned the steal into a layup that pulled Viola within three points, 51-48.
Despite Shirley's cold streak from the free throw line in the last minute, the Blue Devils still managed to put their problems aside long enough to keep Viola from pulling off the upset.
It looked like in the game's early going that Shirley never met an outside shot it didn't like or, for that matter, wouldn't take. Problem was, the Blue Devils, specifically Corey Murray, were connecting on shots way beyond the 3-point arc.
Murray busted four treys in the first period of play to help Shirley to a 20-14 lead after one.
The Horns, too, know something about long-distance dial-ups, as Humphries proved.
After Murray had hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first, Humphries pulled the same trick, jacking back-to-back 3-balls, the first of his four for the game. Humphries paced Viola with 17 points on the afternoon.
The Blue Devils extended their lead into an 11-point margin, 37-26, at the half before Viola started its comeback in the third, before falling 53-49.
The Longhorns are four-time champions of the Northark Tournament, with Viola's last title coming in 2001.
The Horns totally had things their way in the second half of a second-round matchup with their old friends from Rural Special Jan. 3.
Holding the sixth-seeded Rebels to just 16 points in the last two periods of play, Viola cruised past Rural Special 54-38.
Johnson had a big first period as he sank eight of his 14 points for the night in the stanza, as Viola and Rural Special remained close with three ties in the first eight minutes of the night.
The Rebels' Matt Sutterfield, too, had a big first half of play, as he knocked down the first of his four treys in the half with two minutes left in the first to put Rural Special in front 11-10 after one.
Sutterfield sank three more long 3-pointers in the second period, scoring all of his squad's points in the frame, to help keep the Rebels on top 22-21 at intermission.
After the Rebels had managed to move on top by three, 28-25, early in the third, the Horns rolled up their sleeves and delivered the knockout punch.
Johnson sank back-to-back hoops, followed by a 3-ball from Springfield (five points) for a 7-zip Viola run.
Rural Special broke the run with a bucket, but the Longhorns simply closed the book on the third with another 7-zip spurt to grab a huge 39-30 lead after three. Viola's defense kept Rural Special off balance in the third, allowing the Rebels just eight points, while the Horns fired in 18 in the period.
Rains (13 points) opened the fourth with a layup and then it was Humphries time.
Humphries posted 10 of his team-high 17 points in the final frame, including going a perfect four-for-four from the charity stripe, as Viola once again allowed just eight points in the period to Rural Special to end the night on top by 16 points.
Jesse Shrable tallied two points for the Longhorns.
In opening-round action, Viola used a big third-period push to knock off the St. Joe Wildcats 45-38 Dec. 30.
St. Joe held leads of 15-11 after one and 23-19 at the half, but the difference was the third period, a period in which Rains and Johnson combined to dominate the Wildcats.
Rains and Johnson teamed up to toss in 13 points in the frame, helping Viola outscore St. Joe 15-16 in the third to lead 34-29 after three.
Rains led the way with 20 points on the night, while Johnson followed with 13 and Humphries eight. Bynum and Springfield tallied two points each.