Hilltoppers hold off Panthers’ rally
HOUSTON – An Amory comeback came a minute too late on Tuesday as Houston pulled out a 78-74 win to secure its spot in the North state tournament.
Amory (22-8) cut into what was a 20-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter to have a shot at the win, but Houston’s Caleb Morgan hit a pair of crucial free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the win.
“We shouldn’t have let it get that close,” Houston coach Bruce Franks said. “We got in a hurry at times late in the game, but the kids never gave up on it.”
The loss brings the Panthers’ season to an end just shy of the North state tournament at Corinth.
“I can’t be prouder of a team that will get down 20 points and just fight and fight until the last whistle,” Amory coach Rob Browning said. “Words can’t express how proud I am of them.”
Houston (22-5) led by as many as 9 in the first quarter before Amory scored 5 straight to open the second and pull within one. Chris Jones put in a basket right before halftime to give the Hilltoppers a 29-23 halftime lead.
“Shots didn’t fall for us early in the first half. We had good, open shots, and we couldn’t make anything,” Browning said. “That’s part of the game. They extended on their 2-3 a little bit more though than I saw on film, and I felt like we were too patient. We stood around and kind of watched a little bit early.”
Missed free throws by Amory and an 9-0 run near the beginning of the fourth helped Houston opened up a double-digit lead halfway through the third. Sharone Wright opened the period with a basket, and Nick Beeks countered with one for Amory before the Hilltoppers began their run.
Another four points from Jones to open the fourth gave Houston a 60-40 lead.
Amory went on an 11-0 run midway through the quarter with 6 of those points coming from Nick Beeks. Wright added a basket to end the run, but a layup from Jaylon Fair brought the Panthers within 6 before Houston countered with another two-point shot from Jones and the free throws from Morgan.
Dario Robinson hit a pair of 3-pointers for Amory at the end of the game, including one that fell at the buzzer.
Robinson led all scorers with 29 points for Amory, while Jones led Houston with 24 points. Fair scored 19 points for Amory, while Beeks added another 18. Anquan Russell added another 22 points for the Hilltoppers, while Sharone Wright scored 17.
The Panthers lose all five starters – Robinson, Fair, Beeks, Devin McIntosh and Jailon Lowe – to graduation this year.
“They’ve been a great group to coach. I hope they leave here knowing that there’s more to come in life,” Browning said. “Basketball is very important, and I love it. It’s important to them but they’re going to succeed in whatever they do in life.”
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About Melissa Meador
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