Science Hill led all of 14 seconds Saturday night against Webb School of Knoxville.
They were the most important 14 seconds.
The Hilltoppers rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat the Spartans 65-62 in the final game of the two-day Roundball at the Palace.
Calvin Songster led the way with 27 points, including a pair of go-ahead free throws with 14.5 seconds left and another pair of free throws with 1.6 remaining on the clock.
Songster made 15 of18 attempts at the free-throw line overall, after aggressively driving to the basket. It was the other end of the court, however, where he felt most changed the outcome.
“We were down most of the game, but in the fourth quarter we came together and knew if we were going to win, we had to do something different,” Songster said. “We really picked it up on defense, caused some turnovers and it gave us a chance to come back.”
On the final play, Malik McGue, the Johnson City Press Elite 11 football player of the year, was in defensive back mode to intercept the Spartans’ long inbounds pass.
It came a minute after McGue couldn’t connect with Kaden Wampler on a chance to cut the Webb lead to two. But on the next play, he came up with a steal on the inbounds and scored on an old-fashioned 3-point play to cut the margin to 62-61.
“We were a little dead at that moment and it was getting down to crunch time where somebody had to make a big play,” McGue said. “I wanted to make a play for my team to get us going, to give us energy. Coming into the game, we knew it was going to be a hard fought game against a great fundamental game. We knew it would be a grinder and we had to grind it out to the end.”
They did just that to improve to 11-2 on the season. It also knocked the Spartans from the ranks of the unbeaten. Webb fell to 12-1 after the loss.
“They put us in a lot of difficult situations and we had to keep making adjustments until we finally found something that worked a little for us,” Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. “Calvin was just amazing over the last two days. The back-to-back games he put together speaks volumes for his talent, abilities and work ethic. Then, a lot of credit goes to his teammates. Those teammates helped find him and get him the ball. That’s the great thing about these guys. They’re willing to get the ball to whoever is hot.
“Then Malik, he’s a winner. Winners step up in the biggest moments and make plays.”
Webb made big plays early, including a pair of late 3-pointers for a 37-34 halftime lead. Trey Whiteside hit a shot beyond the arc late in the first quarter for a 22-14 lead after one period, and Austin Cox hit a long three with three seconds left in the half.
They came after Science Hill had rallied from six points down to tie the game.
Despite Songster’s and his teammates’ best efforts to pull even in the second half, the Spartans kept pushing them back. They held a four to 10 point lead until Science Hill’s comeback at the end.
After leading most of the way, Webb coach Ricky Norris was obviously disappointed with the outcome.
“We thought that game would come down to the last minute, even when we had a lead,” Norris said. “Coach Cutlip does a great job and their kids are going to fight. They made a couple more plays than we did and that’s the bottom line.”
Cox matched Songster’s output with 27 points to lead the Spartans. Whiteside totaled 14 and Dean Miniard added 13 in the loss.
Science Hill countered with 11 points from Wampler and nine points, all on 3-point goals, from Blake Begley.
On a night when turnovers were at a premium with 15 for the Spartans and 10 for the ‘Toppers, Hunter Hensley led the Science Hill defense with four steals and McGue had three steals.
After hitting a couple of early speed bumps, the Hilltoppers have been on a roll lately. Science Hill scored back-to-back wins over Big Seven Conference rivals Dobyns-Bennett and Tennessee High the week prior to beating Webb for arguably its most impressive victory of the season.
“It was a tremendous win for our program,” Cutlip said. “You have a tremendous coach on the other sideline with coach Norris. I have a lot of respect for how he runs that program and how his kids play. We were fortunate tonight to pull this one out.”
Science Hill (girls) 62
Knox Webb 50
Gabby Lyon tallied 17 points and seven rebounds to lead the Lady ’Toppers (12-0) over the Lady Spartans (10-3).
“Gabby just dominated tonight,” Science Hill coach Keith Turner said. “She really came ready to play, got some boards and blocked shots. When she got the ball inside, she knew where she was going with it. That was good to see.”
Trailing in the second quarter, Webb used a 9-0 run to take a 26-24 lead. But, Science Hill quickly regained control and a 3-point goal by Baylee Head at the buzzer put the Lady ’Toppers ahead 32-28 at the half.
Science Hill continued pressing forward, holding a 42-29 advantage at the end of an 18-3 run. The Lady Spartans closed to 50-43 after three quarters, but Lyon and Tianna Tarter quickly pushed the lead out to double digits.
“One thing you’ve seen this season is when we get down, we don’t panic,” Turner said. “Sometimes we have to watch why we’re getting down. We got beat off the dribble way too much, so we’ll go back to the drawing board on that. But, we’ll get in the gym and get that figured out.”
Tarter totaled 13 points and Keisha Gregory added 11 for Sicnece Hill. Turner also lauded the efforts of Melea Fenley who came off the bench to finish with eight points and six rebounds.
Micah Scheetz led Webb with 16 points and Katie Collier scored 13 points.