Juanye Colon’s potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer missed its mark, giving Wheeler a 76-73 victory on Tuesday in Region 5AAAAAA action at Doug Lipscomb Gymnasium.
“It was a great atmosphere and a very intense game,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said. “Both teams played hard and made runs in the second half. I have to commend Walton, because they always bring their best game, and we did everything we could just to maintain.”
Walton passed a big test (11-4, 6-0) ahead of Thursday’s game with fellow region unbeaten Milton, which is back among the top teams after a probation-riddled 2012-13 season.
Wheeler held a 15-point fourth-quarter lead with 5:11 remaining, following Avery Patterson’s fifth 3-pointer of the game.
But Walton (13-2, 5-2) battled back and trailed 75-73 after Jay Bowyer made one of two free throws with 10.2 on the clock.
A Walton foul then sent Jaylen Brown to the free-throw line with 6.1 seconds remaining. Brown made his first free throw, but he missed the second, and Nick Wells collected the rebound to set up the Raiders’ final shot.
Walton’s half-court offense went through Bowyer first, then Elijah Weems and finally Colon — three of the county’s top 3-point shooters — but Colon’s 3-point try from the left side never found the rim, sending the Wheeler student body into a frenzy.
“Our first option was Jay,” Walton coach Joe Goydish said. “(Wheeler) collapsed on him, and then Elijah was our second option, and they closed on him pretty quickly, too. Elijah went to Juanye, who was our third option in the corner. That play went the way we planned it. The ball just didn’t go in the basket.”
Wheeler led 23-22 at the end of the first quarter and 36-33 at halftime. The Wildcats then outscored the Raiders 21-13 in the third period to stake a 57-46 margin, and they extended the lead to 68-53 after Patterson’s 3.
Trevin Steede’s layup at the 2:50 mark lifted Wheeler to a 70-59 advantage, but two free throws from Weems and a 3-pointer from Wells pulled the Raiders within six with under 2 minutes remaining.
“I never had a doubt that our guys would be able to make it a game,” Goydish said. “They have a lot of heart. This game did the game of basketball proud. It doesn’t get any better than what these two teams showed out there.”
The margin remained at six with 50.3 on the clock, but Bowyer’s two free throws and his 3-pointer brought the Raiders to a 74-72 deficit with 17 seconds on the clock.
“We got into some foul situations late in the game that made it tough for us,” Lipscomb said of Walton’s comeback. “But I’m proud of my guys for maintaining and hanging in there.”
Patterson finished with 24 points and five assists for Wheeler, which connected on nine 3-pointers. Brown had 20 points, including four 3s, and he added nine rebounds and four assists. Daniel Giddens added 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks.
Weems totaled 28 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, and had five rebounds and two steals for Walton. Bowyer contributed 15 points, Wells had 15 points, 12 rebounds and two steals, and Chad Clay added 12 points.
Walton, which made eight 3-pointers, was 21-of-29 from the free-throw line, compared to 9-of-17 for Wheeler.
Walton 58, Wheeler 54: Tierra Steede’s 3-point try with 6 seconds remaining failed to connect, and Walton’s Hannah Patterson made one of two free throws with to put the game out of reach.
Walton (6-9, 4-3 Region 5AAAAAA) held a 56-45 lead with 2:12 remaining on the clock. The Lady Wildcats’ defensive pressure resulted in several turnovers, allowing them to get back into the contest.
Lyric Hancock, who had 19 points in the second half and finished with 23, hit a 3-pointer to trim Wheeler’s deficit to 57-52 with a minute left, and Steede’s layup with 52 on the clock pulled the Lady Wildcats (7-5, 4-2) within three with 52 seconds remaining.
Steede had 17 points for Wheeler.
Katie Dozier and Patterson each had 19 points for Walton. Dozier had four 3-pointers.