Henri Lee had been in this position before. Only this time, he was determined to make the best of it.
Trailing 48-47 with 10 seconds left in the game, Aquinas inbounded the ball to Lee, who had to work his way around several defenders to get open. Then, with a second left on the game clock, Lee launched a 15-foot jumper that swished the net as time expired, lifting the Irish to a thrilling 49-48 subregion victory over Washington-Wilkes.
The Aquinas Lady Irish kept themselves in first-place in the Region 7-A East subregion with a 56-50 victory over Washington-Wilkes behind 18 points from Cheryl Salomone.
Lee, who said he missed a chance to win a game earlier in his career on a buzzer-beater, wouldn't be denied Tuesday night.
"I'm just glad we won the game," said Lee, who finished with eight points and helped the Irish break a three-game losing skid. "I was in this situation before, only the last time the ball didn't go in and we lost the game."
Lee's shot may have ripped the heart out of Washington-Wilkes' players and fans after the Tigers rallied from a 13-point deficit to take a 44-43 lead with 2:01 left on a layup from Marvin Gaye.
The Irish, who went scoreless for nearly 5 1/2 minutes during the fourth quarter, broke a 10-0 Washington-Wilkes run with a basket from Chris Horner to pull to 45-44 with 47 seconds left.
A Tigers turnover and a foul helped the Irish regain the lead at 46-45 after Horner's two free throws with 27 seconds left.
Following a Washington-Wilkes timeout, Gaye drove downcourt, penetrated the lane and converted a layup to make it 48-47 with 10 seconds left, setting up Lee's game-winning shot.
The victory was especially sweet for Aquinas. It opened the second half trailing 24-20, but hit seven of nine shots and used a 15-0 run to build a 35-24 lead. Meanwhile, Washington-Wilkes (4-7, 2-2) was 0-for-10 from the field to start the third quarter and didn't hit a basket until Richard Cook's putback with 2:29 left in the third made it 35-26.
"I would rather win a game like that," said first-year Aquinas coach Rick Raeuber, whose team improved to 4-7 overall and 2-2 in subregion play.
"We've lost several games this season when we've lost leads and couldn't recover. This was a crunch game for us and winning a game like this gives us confidence that we can win games like this."
In the girls game, Aquinas used a 6-0 run late in the second quarter to build a 33-24 halftime lead. The Lady Irish extended their lead to 35-24 in the third quarter before the Lady Tigers went on a 13-4 run to trim the double-digit lead to 39-37 on basket from Allison Wilkinson.
Aquinas drilled a basket on their ensuing possession, then a steal and Jessica Morrell's three-point play pushed the lead to 44-37 with 51 seconds left in the third.
The Lady Irish (10-5, 3-1) pushed their lead to 13 points at 52-39 on a layup from Lindsay Trapp with 4:15 left in the game. But the Lady Tigers fought back, with Monique Pender sinking a three-pointer and her three-point play cut the lead to 56-50 with 1:13 left to play but Washington-Wilkes (4-7, 2-2) couldn't get any closer.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.