ELIZABETHTON — It’s hard to imagine everybody in the gym not being shocked by the sight of Cody McClain’s unguarded drive to the basket just before the final buzzer.
But a bigger shock was yet to come.
McClain, Hampton’s standout point guard who routinely delivers 3-point money balls from NBA distance and beyond, missed the layup with two seconds left. A rushed jumper at the buzzer by Stanley Valentine also missed, and Elizabethton escaped with a 57-56 win over its rival Friday night at Treadway Gymnasium.
The Cyclones improved to 2-2 while Hampton fell to 4-2.
In the girls game, the Lady Cyclones survived an impressive Hampton comeback for a 49-44 victory.
To his credit, McClain stood up like a man after the game and likely earned respect from his coaches, teammates and both teams’ fans.
“I didn’t come through,” said McClain. “The team played really great. I take complete blame. That’s about it.”
As it turned out, Elizabethton’s Zach Norwood was the hero of this contest. He scored seven of his 10 points in the final 6:18 of the game, none bigger than two ice-water-in-the-veins free throws with 7.2 seconds on the clock to give the Cyclones a one-point lead.
“I was nervous, but I tried to block out the crowd,” said Norwood. “We shoot 50 free throws a day after practice, and that helps us.”
Norwood got the one-and-one opportunity because he came up with a loose ball after a missed shot by Aaron Miller.
“I was still a little nervous after I made the first one,” said Norwood. “But that took a weight off my shoulders.”
Hampton called timeout to strategize getting the ball up the court. Elizabethton plotted to stop McClain, and used a fullcourt press.
“During the timeout we said, ‘Guard number zero,’ ” said Elizabethton’s Lucas Honeycutt, who was coaching against his old high school for the first time. “We said, ‘Guard Cody McClain.’ We said it every way we could say it.
“He broke away, and it looked like he would cash it. I was getting ready to call timeout. You’ve got to have skill and talent, and sometimes you’ve got to have a little luck.”
The fourth quarter was an exciting early season display of clutch shooting down the stretch for both teams. Foremost in that picture was Miller, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
Miller hit a trey with 3:25 left to put the Cyclones ahead 50-48. Elizabethton eventually pushed it to 55-49 on another bucket by Miller.
However, McClain hit a 3-pointer before Valentine made a jumper with a minute left. Valentine added a pair of clutch free throws with 23.1 seconds on the clock to put Hampton in front 56-55.
Valentine finished with 14 points for the Bulldogs while McClain added 13.
“Cody plays hard every night,” said Hampton head coach Ned Smith. “It was probably my fault that I didn’t get him any rest. He played four quarters and didn’t come out.
“Some nights the shots go down and some nights they don’t. It was a great atmosphere. I think this will make us much better and get us ready for the conference.”
Johnny Fields added 10 points and six rebounds for Hampton.
Tyler Nichols added 11 points for the Cyclones.
Elizabethton (girls) 49, Hampton 44
Building a 15-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Lady Cyclones appeared to be coasting to a win.
However, Hampton gunned in four straight 3-pointers to get back in the contest. The 12-2 run made it 46-40 with 3:05 remaining.
In the final minute, Hampton had a chance to cut it to one point and a chance to tie. However, the shots didn’t fall, and Elizabethton held on.
Whitney Roberts led the way for the Cyclones with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Lauren McCurry totaled 12 points while Morgan Depew had 10.
Dorothy Dugger knocked down 22 points for Hampton.