Playing against a Cardinal Newman team that had three 6-foot-5 players, the Augusta Christian Lions used athleticism and seven 3-pointers to make a late-game rally Tuesday night.
After the Lions erased a 10-point deficit, tying the game at 64 with just under two minutes to go, the Cardinals responded with four consecutive points and made free throws the rest of the way for the 74-69 win.
“You spend all that energy to catch up and then you try to get over the hump and we couldn’t do it,” said Lions head coach Marty Griffin, whose team fell to 13-3, 1-2 in Region 1-AAA.
Trailing 62-54 with 3:35 to play, Tyquan Burns made a conventional three-point play, scored on an up-and under layup, Nick Fortenberry hit a floater and Burns converted another three-point play to tie the score as the home crowd went wild.
Fortenberry hit two 3-pointers and led the Lions with 23 points. Jacob Greenway had two from long range, finishing with 13 points, and Burns scored 10 points.
The Cardinals’ (10-8, 2-0) got an offensive putback and sank 10 of 12 free throws in the last 45 seconds to put the game away.
Trailing by three with 12 seconds to play, the Lions had a chance to tie the game but threw the inbounds pass out of bounds. Griffin said the play hurt, but didn’t cost his team the game.
“There was a stretch in the second quarter when we gave up two breakaway dunks and we kind of freaked out a little bit,” said Griffin. “The story of the game was second-chance points. We’re shorter than most of the teams in our region and we’ll have to deal with that.”
The Cardinals’ soon-to-be Clemson Tiger Austin Ajukwa led all scorers with 32 points. With the Lions leading 18-13, Ajukwa sank a 3-pointer at the end of the first period, sank a second trey at the beginning of the second and then shook free for two monster jams as his 10-0 run gave the Cardinals a 23-18 lead.
In practice leading up to the game versus the Lady Cardinals, Lady Lions head coach Nick Isaac told his team to keep their heads up after grabbing defensive rebounds. Early in the game he repeated the mantra and when they paid heed, it paid dividends.
The Lady Lions tandem of senior Anna Motes and eighth-grader Kymmya Thomas were too much for the Lady Cardinals as they jumped out early and went on to the 41-31 triumph.
Leading 7-4, Thomas grabbed three consecutive defensive rebounds and fed Motes for fast-break layups on which she was fouled. Motes, who led all scorers with 23 points, converted two of the three conventional three-point-plays, stretching the lead to 15-4. The Lady Cardinals (5-8) would only get as close as seven points the rest of the way.
“The fast breaks were very important because we had to get out to a good start and get a lead,” said Thomas.
Isaac thought that playing up-tempo would be the key.
“We knew coming in we were the quicker team and they had us on size, so we wanted to get out and run,” he said.
The Lady Cardinals started getting easy baskets down low in the third period, and trailed by 10 when Thomas and Motes regained momentum for good. With five seconds left in the third, Thomas grabbed a defensive rebound, fed Motes on the right sideline and her 30-footer with no time on the clock gave the Lady Lions (8-9, 1-2 Region 1-AAA) a 36-23 advantage.
“I turned to my assistant coach and said ‘That right there is a backbreaker,’” Isaac said.