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You knew the fourth-quarter rally was coming.
LAMP won the regular-season Area 4 title and 17 consecutive games with a team full of shooters that could rescue the Golden Tigers from virtually every type of adversity.
But when the shooting failed on Saturday afternoon in the 4A Area 4 tournament finals, there was nothing that could save the Golden Tigers.
Catholic used the same blue-collar blueprint of a hustling defense and a solid group of rebounders to grab a double-digit lead over LAMP, but this time the Knights held on for the most stunning victory of the 2018-19 season in central Alabama, pulling off a 56-49 win and ending the city’s longest winning streak in the process.
“We didn’t have a letdown,” Catholic coach Mike Curry said. “We made some bad decisions with the ball but as far as a letdown, we played at a consistent level all night. Now, we didn’t score it like we needed to, we had some lulls there, but our energy, our effort (was consistent). When you looked in their faces, everyone we locked in.”
Both teams qualified for the state playoffs by reaching the tournament finals. Catholic (13-11) will host Headland in a sub-regional matchup on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Catholic gym, while LAMP (19-8) will travel to Dale County on Tuesday.
The winners of the sub-regional games will advance to the Southeast Regional at Garrett Coliseum.
“I tell my kids you never lose, you win or you learn,” LAMP coach Marcus Townsend said, “and hopefully we’ll take this loss and the experience from it and take it down to Dale County and do what we need to do.”
The Knights were solid early, jumping out to a 12-point lead at the half. Their hustle and rebounding advantage weren’t surprises – the Knights used the same formula two weeks ago in a game at LAMP before the Tigers rallied in the final six minutes – but layups by Quinn Sloane and Micah Boone were the only field goals for the Tigers in the first quarter and the second and third quarters weren’t much better as the Tigers fired blanks all night.
“You try to get them to drive to the basket and make shots, that way they can get their confidence back,” Townsend said. “Catholic made a good move, going to a zone, and I got real excited because I knew we would just knock down some shots after that, but they wouldn’t fall.”
As the game neared the end of the third quarter, it became apparent the Golden Tigers could not rely on their shooting touch to win the game. Their leading scorer, Micah Boone, joined the rest of his teammates in failing to hit a 3-point attempt in the first three quarters despite the Knights’ switch to a zone that left Catholic’s defense vulnerable to perimeter shots.
“I would think that maybe we had something to do with that,” Curry said of Boone’s struggles. “We got out and tried to guard him. I think Myles (Butler) blocked his shot one time (early). We just played good defense.”
Two things happened to swing the momentum. First, Catholic Derrick Parker fouled out with 41 seconds left in the third quarter, leaving the Knights one less ball handler. Then, the fourth quarter started, usually a time for Boone to take over.
The first event allowed LAMP’s defense to pull within a point with four minutes remaining.
“That was tough,” Curry said. “All of our guys were in foul trouble and we had some guys that don’t normally handle the ball as much. That was one of the parts where we went into that lull.”
The inevitable fourth-quarter rally surely was unsettling for Catholic fans, who had watched LAMP do the same thing two weeks ago. But Boone’s eight fourth-quarter points two weeks ago couldn’t be found on Saturday. One of the city’s top scorers managed only a steal and a layup, following up with an airball 3-point attempt moments later and a banked 3-point attempt a minute after that as the Tigers failed to find anyone other than Sloane that could produce.
“These guys don’t like losing, they’ve got a lot of fight,” Townsend said. “When we cut it down, I wasn’t surprised. But the thing I’ve been telling my guys is we can’t wait until the second half to play hard-nosed defense. Catholic was out there killing us on the boards, again, in the first half. We picked it up in the second half but it wasn’t quite enough. We’ve just got to start playing for four quarters.
“You’ve got to win other ways. You can’t just shoot well every night.”
Boone managed just four field goals and finished with 13 points. The loss offset a spectacular performance by Quinn, who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and single-handedly kept the Tigers within striking distance before finishing with a game-high 27 points.
Darian Riley had 21 points and 15 rebounds for Catholic, followed by DJ Carter with 14 points and seven rebounds and Patrick Ryan with 12 points, four rebounds and four steals. Despite the inevitable fourth-quarter rally by the Tigers, Catholic managed to keep its focus and respond with the most stunning victory of the basketball season.
“I focused on us,” Curry said. “The only time I said ‘LAMP’ is when we talked through their stuff (in preparation). But in the huddle, I’m focused on us and what we need to do. They’ve got a great ballclub and I’m guessing we’ll see them again. Tonight was just our night.”