The Jefferson City Jays trailed by 17 points late in the third quarter, and yet, they still had a chance to force overtime in the closing seconds.
The Jays rallied to tie the game with 1:10 remaining, but the Troy-Buchanan Trojans held for the final shot, and they got it to fall with :02.7 remaining to escape with a 58-56 victory Monday night at Fleming Fieldhouse.
Troy-Buchanan's Charlie Nett made a backdoor pass to Griff St. Pierre, who scored the layup from the right block. The Jays were unable to get off a final shot.
"The only other thing you can do there is foul and send them to the free-throw line," Jays coach Tony Phillips said. "I did that in the Final Four, and I probably wish I would have done it again. If you foul them right there and they hit two free throws, now we're down two, and we'll take the ball and try to win it."
However, it wasn't the final possession that frustrated Phillips. It was the 17-0 run his team allowed in the third quarter. In a span of 4:22, Troy-Buchanan took tie ballgame and turned it into a 53-36 lead with 1:31 to go in the quarter.
"We missed layups, we missed a one-footer while worrying about contact, and then they would get a run-out," Phillips said.
One thing Phillips said he didn't want to do was call a timeout during the Troy-Buchanan run, which he didn't.
"I didn't use a timeout, and I'm sure people think I'm flat-out nuts, but at some point in time, they have to learn to hold themselves accountable," he said.
Instead, it was the Trojans who called a timeout at the 1:10 mark of the third quarter. Phillips said he didn't have to tell his players anything during that break. Senior Sterling DeSha did the talking.
"He talked the entire timeout," Phillips said, "and they listened to everything he said. Player-led teams are the ones that win championships, and our goal is to win a district championship. Maybe we took a step forward tonight with that."
Troy-Buchanan's timeout turned out to be a blessing for Jefferson City. On the Jays' next possession, Aaron Stallings attacked the rim for a layup to halt the run, then DeSha scored off his own putback in the closing seconds to cut the lead to 53-40 entering the fourth quarter.
"We turned it on like that, and I didn't have to yell and scream," Phillips said.
After a few empty possessions to start the fourth quarter, DeSha knocked down a 3 from the wing to make it a 10-point game. Steven Samuels hit a shot from the right block, then DeSha followed with a three-point play with 5:40 to play.
Just like that, the Jays answered the Trojans' 17-0 run with 12 straight points, making the score 53-48.
What pleased Phillips was how his team didn't rely on DeSha to lead the charge. Four other players worked into the scoring column during Jefferson City's fourth-quarter comeback.
"We need to share the basketball," Phillips said. "We obviously know where our bread is buttered with Sterling. But for the rest of us, we get better when we share it. In the third quarter, we didn't share it and we took bad shots, and that led to run-outs on the other end."
Michael Onunkwor took a pass in the lane from DeSha, avoided a charging call for a fifth foul and made a three-footer to pull the Jays within two at 56-54 with 1:43 to play.
Troy-Buchanan missed a layup on the other end, and Keith Driver drew a foul away from the basket with 1:10 to play. He made both ends of the 1-and-1 to tie the score at 56, capping a 20-3 run for the Jays.
Jefferson City shot 19-of-24 from the free-throw line. DeSha was 7-of-7 and Driver made all four attempts.
"Generally, when you make more free throws than the other team shoots, you win the game," Phillips said. "That tells you that in this game, there was an issue, and obviously, it's going to be the turnovers and bad shots in the third quarter."
DeSha led Jefferson City with game-highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double. Onunkwor added 14 points and seven rebounds.
Troy-Buchanan (15-6) had four players score in double figures. St. Pierre's winning basket gave him a team-high 20 points.
Jefferson City (9-14) will host Capital City in a makeup game Wednesday to conclude the regular season. The JV game starts at 6 p.m., followed by the varsity game at 7:30 p.m.
In Monday's JV game, Jefferson City defeated Troy-Buchanan 45-38. Tripp Maassen scored a team-high 15 points for the Jays.