In Norman Bonner's 33 years of coaching basketball at Laney, he's seen about everything there is to see in high school basketball.
It's not often the veteran coach raves about a game, but he couldn't hide his emotions after Cory Tyler's jump shot with two seconds remaining lifted the Wildcats to a 63-61 victory over stubborn Jefferson County in Region 3-AAA action Friday night.
"Yep, that was a great game," Bonner said. "But I thought we were heading for overtime."
In the girls game, Laney's girls handed Jefferson County an old-fashioned 68-48 whipping.
The Laney boys improved to 10-4 overall and 3-0 in Region 3-AAA behind 21 points from Tyler and 15 points from senior guard Nick Figgs.
The Warriors held a nine-point advantage in the third quarter, only to watch the Wildcats slowly chip away at their lead. Laney pulled to within 50-44 at the end of the third quarter.
As the Wildcats trimmed the deficit to 55-51, Tyler stole a pass, then ignited the crowd with a dunk to make it 55-53 with 4:13 left. Seconds later, Tyler turned a Warrior miss into an 18-foot jumper to tie the game at 55.
As the game wound to a close, the two teams traded baskets before engaging in an exciting final minute of play. With the game tied at 59, Figgs stole a pass, then passed to Tyler on the fastbreak. Tyler sank a layup to make it 61-59 with 53 seconds remaining.
However, after a series of turnovers, Terrance Lewis sank a shot off the glass with nine seconds left to knot the game again. That set up Tyler's game-winning basket.
"When you've been in basketball as long as I have, anything can happen," Bonner said. "That goes to show you that you better be ready to play on any given night, because anybody in this league can beat you."
Friday night's game for the Lady Warriors was their first since Dec. 16, and Jefferson County coach George Samples said that might have been a reason for his team's sluggishness.
"I was concerned about (Laney's) ability to press and their ability to score points," Samples said. "We knew they'd been scoring a lot of points, and we felt that if their game was pressing from end to end, we'd match up a little better than we did."
Jefferson County (6-2 overall, 1-1 Region 3-AAA) matched up perfectly with Laney for the first three minutes of the game. However, when Nafeesah Ameen drilled a basket from the right wing to give the Lady Wildcats a 5-4 lead, Jefferson County never saw the lead again.
Instead of a basketball game, it looked more like a track meet - at least on Laney's side of the court. The Lady Wildcats used their up-tempo offense to build a 20-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
As if trying to slow down Laney's run-and-gun offense wasn't enough of a challenge, the Lady Warriors also had to figure out a way to overcome Laney's stiff press.
Jefferson County opened the second quarter with a 3-point basket from Taliah Roberts, then after a Laney turnover, Jefferson County's Krystin Kelly converted a three-point play to trim the lead to 20-16 with 5:25 left in the first half.
But Shakethia Brown, making her first appearance since bruising a knee earlier this year, drained a jump shot, then Ameen buried a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine points at 25-16. Roberts answered with a short jumper to make 25-18 with 4:14 left in the first half.
However, Laney closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to build a 36-20 halftime advantage. Jefferson never saw its deficit fall below 10 points the rest of the game.
"We tried to put a lot of pressure on them early and at the same time, keep ourselves out of foul trouble," said Laney girls coach Otis Smart, whose team improved to 11-3 overall and 3-0 in Region 3-AAA.
"We got into a running game and were able to sub a lot of people. I was proud of the victory, but we've still got a long way to go."
Part of the Lady Wildcats' offensive outburst in the second quarter was because of junior Sheena Freeman, who pumped in nine of 31 points in the second quarter.
Smith was not only glad to see Brown back in the lineup but he also was happy with the return of senior Tiffany Bush, who had missed the past six games with a knee injury.
The region schedule is still young, but Samples says Laney might be the team to beat.
"I tell you what ... (Laney) is going to be tough to beat in this region," he said.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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