With time running out on the All-Ohio Red on Wednesday at North Augusta's Riverview Park, Andrew Lavender decided his team's chances of winning the Nike Peach Jam championship rested on his shoulders.
After trailing the Houston Hoops by seven with fewer than two minutes remaining, Lavender caught fire, scoring 14 of All-Ohio's final 18 points to give the Red a 75-72 overtime victory.
Lavender scored a game-high 27 points, including All-Ohio's last seven points in regulation and two game-tying free throws with 17 seconds left to force overtime. He also recorded five assists and scored five of his team's seven points in the extra period.
"When I saw I could get to the bucket easier than I thought, I just kept doing it," Lavender said. "No matter how many points I had, no matter how many assists, I just wanted to win."
Houston entered the tournament as a favorite to take the title, with a loaded roster that included guard Tack Minor and center Ndudi Ebi, two of ESPN's top 10 rising seniors in the nation. The Hoops crushed All-Ohio, 92-69, in pool play Monday but but were unable to duplicate the feat.
"We were really focused, because we wanted to redeem ourselves (from Monday's loss)," said Lavender, a 5-foot-10 point guard. "We have one of the smallest teams out here, and nobody thought we were going to win it. In Ohio, we have a little saying: 'Bring your game, not your name."'
Forward Justin Benson kept Houston close during the first half, scoring 16 of his team-high 20 points before halftime. All-Ohio led 30-29 at the break, and the Hoops took the a brief lead early in the second period.
But Denzel Lyles scored 14 of his 16 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half, helping the Red take a seven-point lead with seven minutes remaining.
Minor was benched by Houston coach Darryl Sheppard late in the first half and remained out until about midway through the second half. He returned with a vengeance, scoring 12 points in the last nine minutes of regulation to give the Hoops the lead again.
"He wasn't following through with what I wanted done on defense," Sheppard said. "His offense was fine, but you've got to play both ends of the court. He's an emotional kid, and he has to get steamed up before he gets going."
With All-Ohio down 66-59, Lavender scored at the 1:50 mark, and followed with a 3-pointer to cut the margin to 66-64. Minor was called for a technical foul with 17 seconds left, and Lavender sank two free throws to tie the score at 68, sending the game into overtime.
Baskets by Benson and Minor were not enough for the Hoops to keep pace in overtime.
"I'm extremely happy for these kids and for our program," All-Ohio coach Bruce Howard said. "It's just a great testament to the basketball that's played in Ohio."
Reach Lane Kramer at (706) 823-3425.
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