By Jonathan Wise
BOONEVILLE – Up nine with just over four minutes to go, the Belmont Cardinals looked to be in control against North Pontotoc, until the No. 1-seeded Vikings came roaring back.
Belmont would escape with a 62-61 victory in the Division 1-3A tournament at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
A pair of free throws from Brooks Shannon, a contested three-pointer from Aaron Chapman, and a steal and layup from T.J. Cullens pulled North to within 58-56. Two consecutive turnovers by Cardinals led to Shannon and then Marcus Green hitting a combined trio of free throws to put the Vikings ahead 59-58, setting up a wild finish with three lead changes in the last minute.
After Belmont’s Harrison Fancher drove to the hoop, putting the Cardinals up 60-59 with 46.5 left, Green answered with a finger roll on the other end at the 25.7 mark. Quickly coming downcourt, guard Luke Alexander was fouled on his way to the rim and made both free throws to seal a thrilling victory win for the Cardinals (17-8).
Green’s fallaway in the final seconds came up short.
“(Point guard) Isaac Sparks fouled out with 41⁄2 minutes to go,” said Belmont coach Guy Gardner. “Coach Pettit does an awesome job with North. They put pressure on us, and we turned it over; but I coach a bunch of kids made of the right stuff.
“They’re tough kids, and their heart is way bigger than their ability. They found a way at the end.”
Alexander and Fancher, who made the final two plays to lift Belmont to a big win over a team that had routed them by 24 points just over two weeks ago, scored 20 and 19 points to lead the Cardinals. Shannon and Chapman each had 18 for North (16-12).
“We played our kind of basketball the last three minutes,” said Vikings coach Chris Pettit. “Other than that they dictated the rest of the game. We didn’t do a good job of keeping the ball the ball in front of us. We just didn’t play our best.”