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Southwest Bears rally to beat East Central

Knowing it was “win or go home” situation, the Bears rallied from a 10-point down in second-half to close out the regular season with a 79-75 overtime win over the host East Central Warriors Thursday night in Decatur. The win secured a spot for the Bears in next week’s MACJC state tournament at Itawamba Community College.

The Bears closed out the regular season at 14-8 overall and 9-5 in the South and will be the South’s third-seeded team in the tournament. East Central ended the year at 13-10 overall and 8-6 in the South.

Bryce Baker’s three-pointer and a basket from Terrell Miller gave the Bears a fast 5-0 lead Thursday night. But, the Warriors quickly found their offense and outscored the Bears 18-6 over a 9:52 span to take an 18-11 lead with 10:05 left before the half.

With jumpers from James Hawthorne serving as bookends, the Bears then went on an 11-0 scoring spree to regain the lead, 22-18, with 7:51 on the clock.

Scoring seven of the next nine points, the Warriors went back on top, 25-24, with 5:52 showing. Back-to-back three pointers from Baker and Lafayette Rutledge then put the Bears back ahead, 30-25, with 2:55 remaining. The Warriors answered by scoring five of the final seven points of the half and the teams went into intermission with the Bears on top 32-30.

The Warriors took a 33-32 lead less than 1:00 into the second half. But, Emanuel Thompson and Miller combined to score six straight points and for the Bears to put them back up, 38-33, with 18:01 left in the game.

An 11-2 run left the Warriors with a 44-40 advantage with 15:23 to play. After a Rodrick Sikes free throw pulled the Bears to within one, 47-46, with 11:21 to go, the Warriors put together another 11-2 scoring streak and pushed out to a 58-48 lead with 8:14 to play.

But, the Bears showed they still had some fight left in them. Trailing 64-58, with 4:51 on the clock, the Bears picked up 10 of the game’s next 14 points and knotted the score at 68-68 on Miller’s jumper with 1:09 showing. Neither team was able to get off a shot in the remaining time, forcing the extra play.

Rutledge gave the Bears a 71-68 lead early in the overtime, but the Warriors responded quickly to go ahead 73-71 with 3:44 on the clock. Making five of six free throws, the Bears regained the lead, 76-73, with 2:10 to play.

The Warriors closed the gap to 76-75, with 1:31 left, but a Thompson basket and Miller’s free throw closed out the scoring, giving the Bears the hard-fought win.

“It was a huge night for the Bears,” said their second-year head coach Thomas Gray. “I’m just so happy for these guys. They’ve been through a lot this year; they faced a lot of adversity.”

“I’m definitely proud of our guys (for) battling back,” Gray went on. “Early foul trouble hindered us. Thompson went down with a little injury in the first half and we had guys step up and play major minutes; literally every one of our guys got in the game and played huge minutes. It was as much of a team win as we’ve had all season.”

“We’re just so blessed that we’re going to be able to continue this thing,” Gray concluded, “and go up to Fulton (Itawamba) next week”.

Miller led three Bears in double figures with 17 points. Rutledge totaled 16 points while Thompson had 12. Baker led the team on the boards with nine rebounds. The Bears made 19 of 26 free throws.

The Warriors’ Randy Phillips led all scorers with 19 points. He and his teammates made 31 of 42 free throws.

It is expected the Bears will face the Northwest Rangers on Monday in the first round of the state tournament. Complete brackets and game times will be announced later today.