This year’s version of North Murray’s boys basketball team hadn’t played a close game yet.
Southeast Whitfield has, and for the second time this season, the Raiders came out on the wrong end.
The Mountaineers won 71-69 in a back-and-forth game Friday at the Raiders’ own Southeast Whitfield Hoopfest tournament as Rhett Harper’s half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer was no good. North Murray will play Excel Christian today at 2:30 p.m. in the fifth-place game. Southeast plays Bremen at 11:30 a.m. in the seventh-place contest.
In other boys games on Friday at the tournament, Excel Christian won 84-77 against Bremen, Heritage-Catoosa won 70-59 against Darlington and Woodland-Bartow’s game against East Paulding was not completed before The Daily Citizen’s deadline.
In the girls bracket, Southeast routed Excel Christian 66-29 and advanced to today’s championship, where it plays at 7 p.m. against a Heritage team that defeated Woodland-Bartow 69-59. Ridgeland’s girls won 40-33 against East Paulding.
In the North Murray-Southeast game, neither side led by double digits and the game was tied 65-65 heading to the final minute. Hinton McConkey scored on a baseline jumper with 58.8 seconds remaining to give North Murray (2-1) a two-point advantage. The rest of the game came down to free throws, with each side converting five free shots. North Murray post Omar Romero missed both of his with 3.8 seconds left, but Harper’s last-second heave didn’t provide any celebration for Southeast (1-3).
North Murray advanced to the Class 3A state tournament’s second round last year but graduated all of that team’s starters, plus one bench player. The Mountaineers won their first game this season by 23 points and lost Tuesday by 25 to Woodland-Bartow. North Murray coach Tim Ellis called playing a tight game “valuable,” regardless of the result. Romero, who was a key bench player last year and now is a starter, echoed that sentiment.
“You have to learn how to play in those situations,” he said. “We learned a lot and stepped up a lot. Some of our guys just played JV last year and are just starting to play varsity now.”
The Raiders started the season with a 70-64 loss against Gilmer in a game that was tied at 56 with around three minutes to play.
“Each game has a different personality,” Southeast first-year coach James Case said. “You’re up. You’re down. You break even. We’re still learning the system right now.”
Southeast relied on two players, Harper and Ty Pendley, for the majority of its points. Harper led all scorers with 28 points, and Pendley added 20. North Murray was much more balanced. McConkey and Noah Allen each scored 12 points to lead North Murray. Jordan Couch added 11 and a total of 11 Mountaineers chipped in with at least two points. Southeast had seven players score.
“We battled back and kept together,” Case said.
The first quarter ended 19-17 in North Murray’s favor, and Adrian Cooks helped the Mountaineers gain a 26-19 lead early in the second period with a 3-pointer, followed by a steal and jumper. Southeast ended the first half with a 10-4 run, tying the game at 38-38 with Noah Ramsey’s two free throws.
“I thought in the first half we had things going our way,” Ellis said. “Give them credit. They made a run back and it’s 38-38.”
That run continued with five straight points for Southeast to begin the second half. The Raiders held the lead until Allen’s 3-pointer in the final minute of the quarter gave the Mountaineers a 51-50 edge, and Lucas Sexton followed with a 3-pointer for a 54-50 North Murray lead. Pendley finished the quarter with a layup, cutting the deficit to 54-52.
With 3:30 left in the game, Harper left with a cut above his eye after he and North Murray’s Nathan Spivey collided. Harper re-entered with North Murray ahead 65-61 and made back-to-back jumpers to tie the game with 1:55 left.
• Southeast girls 66, Excel Christian 29: The Lady Raiders advanced to the championship with their third straight win after starting the season with a blowout loss.
Crickett Wyatt led all scorers with 18 points, half coming from three 3-pointers, and Judelle Herrera added 13 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists. Wendy Perez had seven rebounds and five assists.
“We’re starting to play a lot better on the defensive end,” Southeast coach Michael Durham said. “I told them we’d start making shots. ... I thought we were much more aggressive on defense and we started making shots.”
Southeast led 14-5 entering the second quarter and 32-9 at halftime after Emily Beck hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer. Wyatt hit a jumper and followed with a 3-pointer for a 44-16 lead halfway through the third period, which ended with the Lady Raiders ahead 56-22.
Andrea Taylor led Excel Christian (0-3) with 12 points.