CORRYTON — Elizabethton had a state tournament berth locked in a major chokehold, but 5-foot-5 point guard Aaron Corum refused to tap out.
The Cyclones coughed up a 20-point fourth quarter lead as Corryton Gibbs' Corum had the game of his life, scoring 14 of his 29 points in the final 6:29 of a stunning 54-53 victory in a Class AA sectional contest at the Eagles' gym Monday night.
After sharing a teary-eyed hug with his 90-year-old great grandmother, surrounded by a sea of Eagles' fans, Corum said it was his best-ever game.
“I gave everything I had,” he said. “This feels great. I've never felt anything like this before.”
Elizabethton (25-8) saw its season come to a close while Gibbs (25-8) will head to next week's state tournament at Murfreesboro.
“I thought we made a few careless mistakes down the stretch,” said Elizabethton head coach Lucas Honeycutt. “We just got in the moment too much. We rushed some shots, and the crowd got into it, and it was hard for our kids to hear. I thought we played well enough to get it done, but we made just enough mistakes.
“Their point guard had a huge night. It was hard to stay in front of him, and we were focused on (Jay) Cade.”
Cade and Hunter Hopson came into the game averaging 36 points between them, but totaled 18. Corum more than made up for that.
The first half was mostly forgettable as neither team showed much offensive ability. The Cyclones shot 6 of 26 from the field yet held an 18-14 lead.
Things changed for the better in the third quarter, especially for the Cyclones. They closed the period with an 8-0 run, with Zeke Clark's rim-crawling 3-pointer beating the buzzer and making it 42-25.
Then Zach Norwood converted an old-fashioned three-point to make it 45-25 with 7:39 left in the game.
From there to the finish, it was a slow and painful meltdown of turnovers and missed layups for Elizabethton. The Cyclones missed six point-blank shots and turned the ball over four times, missing out on a potential 18 points down the stretch.
Hopson's rim defense was also a factor as he got a hand on several of those misses.
Meanwhile, Corum was weaving through a suddenly porous Elizabethton defense.
“The help was not there a lot of times,” said Honeycutt. “I guess the kids thought since we had a lead they didn't want to give up a 3-pointer.”
After Hopson made two free throws, Cade converted a three-point play to quickly cut the difference to 15 points.
A short time later, Corum made a free throw and a layup. It was 45-35 with 4:44 remaining.
After Jay Cade's trey bomb made it 46-38, Norwood answered with a bucket to restore Elizabethton's lead to eight points. But Corum struck again with a run to the rim and it was 48-40.
Will Robinson made two free throws, and then Corum delivered what was probably the defining moment of the comeback. When Elizabethton backed off him a little, he dribbled up and calmly swished a 3-pointer to make it 50-43.
Can't stop the drive, can't stop the three.
“I knew I could take my guy every time down the floor,” said Corum.
Corum got fouled on the next possession and made both tosses. 50-45.
Norwood made a free throw with 1:47 left, but Hopson got to the rim for his first bucket of the game and he was fouled. The free throw was good. 51-48.
Again Robinson made two free throws, and it looked like Elizabethton was back in some sort of control.
However, Corum got to the rim again. 53-50 with 51 seconds left.
On the next possession, Gibbs converted a fast break into a dish from Corum to Cade for a layup. 53-52 with 38 seconds left.
Elizabethton then threw the ball into the stands for a turnover.
Corum got the ball, and made a mad dash for the basket and Tyler Nichols appeared to be in perfect position. Was it Corum's fifth foul? Or two free throws?
“I thought it was a really bad call,” said Honeycutt. “I thought it was obvious. If it was called the same way as the first half, it was a charge.”
Corum got the call, and drained the free throws. Gibbs, 54-53.
Still, Elizabethton had a chance with 24.5 seconds remaining. The Cyclones brought the ball down and couldn't get a good look, and Gibbs knocked the ball out of bounds with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Out of timeouts, the Cyclones had to go on the fly. Clark got a guarded look from 3-point land at the buzzer, but missed the mark.
Norwood led the Cyclones with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. Clark added 11 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
Aaron Miller added 11 points while Robinson totaled eight points, eight rebounds and five steals.
“We got a big lead, and then went cold,” said Robinson. “And then they got a hold of the momentum.”
Cade added 12 points and six rebounds for the Eagles.