Down by one with 10 seconds to go, Wheeler was going to foul a Morristown East player. Instead, he came up with a steal. Love made the most of it with his floater with five seconds left — the game winner in the Hilltoppers' 57-56 win over the Hurricanes at Jefferson County High School.
East's Cameron Rymer missed a 3-pointer for the Hurricanes at the buzzer.
"Coach called a play and they overhelped," Love said. "I saw an opening. I almost got a charge, but I pulled up and got the floater. I knew Tate was there to get the rebound if I missed. But that play started with his defensive effort."
Both Love and Wheeler ended with 17 points to lead the 'Toppers, who will face Dobyns-Bennett, which won 49-47 over Jefferson County with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, in Thursday's championship game.
UPS AND DOWNS
The Hilltoppers (24-8) controlled the first half, hitting their first six shots of the quarter and seven of nine overall. It led to a 16-point lead and then a 34-22 advantage at the half.
However, the Hurricanes stormed back with a fury and cut the margin to 46-39 at the end of three quarters. However, it was Science Hill celebrating at the end with Junior Danso adding seven points and five assists, and David Bryant scoring six.
"We played outstanding in the first half," Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. "But the scary part when you jump up like that, the other team can play with abandonment. Their shooters stepped up, but I'm really proud of the kids hanging tough at the end. They just kept battling to the end. It comes down if you are fortunate at the end, and we were fortunate that the ball bounced out tonight."
WHEELER OF FORTUNE
Morristown East eventually took the lead on a 3-point shot by Neven Herrell and again at 54-52 on a reverse layup by Connor Jordan. After a 3-pointer by Love put Science Hill back ahead, Jordan scored on the other end for a 56-55 lead.
After Science Hill couldn't convert, the Hurricanes were in good position until Wheeler knocked the ball loose and into the hands of Love.
"We just try to give all our effort and make plays," said Wheeler, who had three blocks and three steals on the defensive end. "I was trying to foul, but I got my hand on the ball and knocked it loose."
Love added: "That's what got us the game. His effort was special. He stepped and got us that steal."
The Hurricanes, coached by former University High standout and Science Hill assistant Ryan Collins, ended its season at 22-10. Jordan led the 'Canes with 12 points, followed by 10 for Jace Smith and nine apiece for Herrell and Rymer.
East got the shot it wanted at the end, but it just didn't fall.
"I couldn't be prouder of our kids' response coming out of halftime," Collins said. "I don't think a lot of people would have given our kids a chance. They displayed relentless resolve. Through all the good and bad, they stuck together.
"We got exactly what we wanted. I thought Cameron did a great job. That speaks of his confidence and who he is to take that shot. I don't think there was an East fan in the building that wasn’t holding the 3-sign up. I'm proud of the look we got at the end. It just didn't fall."
Dobyns-Bennett 49, Jefferson County 47
Chase Jenkins threw up a one-handed 3-pointer from the left side of the arc at the buzzer as the Indians (29-6) rallied from seven points down in the final two minutes to beat the Patriots (23-9) in the late semifinal.
“At halftime, I was shooting the ball in the corner, my mom comes up and taps me on the shoulder. She has a bracelet with the Lord’s Prayer on it and says ‘rub this for good luck,’” Jenkins said. “I don’t know what to say. We prayed three times before the game. I rubbed that and that helped. God was there tonight.”
Riamello Wadsworth led Dobyns-Bennett with 13 points and Charlie Browder scored 12. Marae Foreman had just four, but was the inspirational leader after getting knocked out of the first half with a shoulder injury.
Darius Allen scored 11 to lead the Patriots, who ended their season at 23-9.