With the 2006-07 basketball season quickly becoming one of the more competitive ones in years, there's no telling what the last 10 seconds of a game will bring.
For Evans junior Jonathan Nicely and Greenbrier junior Andy Gray, those final moments brought victory and fame.
Nicely's time in the spotlight came two weeks ago when he drained a deep 3-point shot at the buzzer in a tie game at Greenbrier. The desperation heave gave Evans a 61-58 region victory and changed Nicely's popularity status for at least a weekend.
"A lot of people were coming up and congratulating me at school," Nicely said of the days after his game-winning heroics. "I felt like the big man on campus."
Although Greenbrier lost the game, the Wolfpack bounced back in its next contest from Gray's quick defensive skills. Facing the Academy of Richmond County in another Region 3B-AAAA matchup, Greenbrier led by two points in the last minute of the fourth quarter when Musketeer Trevor Welcher dribbled into the corner with the intention of hitting a game-winning 3-pointer. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Gray blocked Trevor's shot and saved the game.
"We were in our diamond defense, and Bryan (Andrews) was on him. My man picked him so I went out on Welcher," Gray said. "I just put my arm out and hoped for the best."
Gray's defensive stand might not have been as glamorous as Nicely's game-winning shot, but both plays resulted in region victories for their teams.
On Friday, Nicely and Gray will be on the floor for what has come to be known as Evans-Greenbrier III.
Both teams have won one game in this season's previous two meetings. The highly anticipated third meeting will give one team a boost over the other in Region 3B-AAAA.
With so much on the line, the pressure can be almost overwhelming. Nicely said he likes it that way.
"I think it's easier to play in a game like that," he said. "With all the adrenaline and everything it's easier to get pumped up."
This year's round of games between the schools isn't the first time Nicely and Gray have played each other. The athletes often faced off in the Columbia County Recreation Department's basketball leagues in third and fourth grade. That spilled over into a Riverside/Evans middle school rivalry. It's come full circle, where the two are caught up in the biggest basketball rivalry in the county.
Because Greenbrier typically runs a zone defense, Nicely and Gray might not match up one-on-one in Friday's game. The players will, however, be key components in the outcome of the game.
Nicely's role in the paint for Evans will be even more important this time around considering that senior center Matt Clark broke his nose diving into the stands for a loose ball last Tuesday in a loss at Statesboro. Evans boys basketball coach Kevin Kenny said Matt will play against Greenbrier but will likely have to wear a protective face mask.
For the Wolfpack, Gray hasn't started every game this season, but his 6-foot-2-inch frame and ability to play as a guard and forward will present matchup problems. He'll add height to a Greenbrier lineup that will otherwise be topped by the taller Evans starters.
Though both Nicely and Gray have proved their worth in last-minute situations, the players said it's time to move on from their previous heroics.
"We can't think about that game and live in the past," Nicely said. "The next game is the biggest one."
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