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BA conquers Hillcrest

Brock Smith took a deep breath, exhaled and calmly swished twofree throws with 4.3 seconds left on the clock, lifting theBrookhaven Academy Cougars to a thrilling 31-30 Wednesday nightvictory against Hillcrest Christian. Smith’s freebies advanced theCougars (17-10) to Friday’s MAIS Class AA State Tournamentsemifinals.

Hillcrest (25-5), a talented, state tournament favorite, still hadone last chance at victory as an enthusiastic crowd packed BA’sJohn R. Gray Gymnasium. Guard Robert Johnson took the inboundspass, raced toward the other end of the floor and pulled up for a10-foot jump shot. Johnson lost control of the basketball and timeexpired.

Hillcrest had beaten BA by 25 points Jan. 8, at Jackson.

“I’m speechless,” said Smith as he savored the victory. “It wasn’tme. It was my teammates and our Nation (fans).”

Smith and his teammates will face North AA champion Marshall Fridaynight at 7:15 in the semifinals. Marshall eliminated Bowling Green58-36 yesterday. Win or lose, the two teams will play Saturdaynight, either in the consolation or championship games.

In girls action, defending state champion Leake overpowered PrairieView 74-43 and Oak Hill edged Bowling Green 45-43. Grenada Kirkplays Columbia Academy at 4 p.m. and Brookhaven Academy’s girlsplay Simpson County Academy today at 5:15 in quarterfinalsaction.

Today’s boys games send Simpson against River Oaks at 6:30 andColumbia against West Memphis at 7:45.

It was another great coaching achievement in the long career of BAboss Dale Watts. Realizing his team was outmanned at nearly everyposition, Watts installed his patented, patient passing game andplaced a wrench in Hillcrest’s high-powered scoring machine.

“This was a great win for us,” said Watts. “These guys have beenextremely resilient. It (stall) is a hard game to play. You have toexecute the fundamentals.”

Watts watched his team overcome 17 turnovers against an aggressiveHillcrest team. “They have a bunch of horses out there. I wantedthem to play us tight and they did. They came after us.”

Asked about his thoughts while standing at the free throw line, the6-foot-3 Smith said, “Coach Watts told me I could do it. I blockedeverything out of my mind.”

Smith finished with a game-high 14 points, plus 5 assists and 5rebounds. Matthew Evans chipped in 10 points. Sidney Chaffingrabbed 7 rebounds and Gage Posey 4.

Brookhaven claimed a 12-5, first-quarter lead and was up 18-12 athalftime. Hillcrest pulled ahead 21-20 with 1:36 left in the thirdquarter on a trey by Preston Haynes. Evans responded and cashed ina 3-point play as BA led 23-21 entering the final frame.

With 1:06 left in the game, guard Spencer Burroughs sank a15-footer from the right side, giving Hillcrest a 30-29 lead. Wattscalled his final timeout with 12 seconds left and Smith was fouledwith 4.3 seconds showing.

Hillcrest coach Wes Prather hugged and consoled his heart-brokenplayers in the dressing room after the game as they concluded theirseason.

“I knew they were going to do it (stall),” said Prather. “We missedsome easy shots we normally make. Brookhaven did a good job slowingus down.”

Prather saw his team commit 10 turnovers. Seven rebounds by 6-4post Terrance Staten led Hillcrest on the backboards.

Watts, recognized as the Dean Smith of the MAIS coaching ranks, isseeking a seventh straight AA state title. His players areconfident they can deliver another trophy Saturday night.