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In one of the most exciting games ever played at Harriman's Richard D. Pickell Gymnasium, the host Blue Devils kept their season alive with a dramatic 85-83 double overtime victory over Wartburg in the Region 2-A semifinals.
The winning basket came for Harriman in a frantic final few seconds of play. Tied at 83, Wartburg appeared set to take the last shot, but Wartburg's Brandon Justes was stripped of the ball while penetrating the lane. The ball was scooped up by Harriman's Austin White who hit Darius Gallaher with the outlet pass. Gallaher then found a streaking Xavier Howard who put in what would be the game winning shot with .9 seconds on the clock.
Harriman wasn't quite out of the woods as after a time out, the Bulldogs threw a length of the court pass that found Alex Fountain near the goal. Fountain's shot at sending the game to a third overtime came up just short as Harriman celebrated what would be a berth in Thursday's Region 2-A title game and more important than that, an automatic berth in Monday's TSSAA Class A Sectional where the Blue Devils will play for a second straight trip to the TSSAA Class A State Tournament.
“That was just two teams out there that were battling. Neither wanted to lose,” Harriman head coach Jeff King said. “This game was like number six on our epic battle list with Wartburg. Every game we play with them seems to be close. This was a great game for the fans, but you hate to see either team lose a game like this, especially when it ends your season.”
Great games are nothing new between the Bulldogs and Blue Devils. In King's nine years at Harriman, the Bulldogs and Blue Devils have played 23 times with 14 of those games being decided by six points or less with Wartburg holding an overall 12-11 advantage.
In postseason play, the teams have met five teams with Harriman winning three of five after Monday. Three of the five have also been decided by two points or less. Harriman defeated Wartburg 81-80 in the 2007 Region 2-A title game and Wartburg knocked off Harriman 58-56 in the 2003 District 4-A title game.
Tuesday's game was close throughout as the lead changed hands 21 ties and there were a total of 13 ties.
Five of those lead changes came in the first quarter as the Blue Devils would hold a 17-16 lead after eight minutes of play.
Seven different players scored for Wartburg in the opening quarter while Howard (9 points) and Ben Davis (5 points) combined for 14 of Harriman's 17 points in the opening period.
The second quarter was also a seesaw affair as there were four ties and six lead changes before the two teams went into the locker room tied at 31 at intermission.
Brad Richardson and Fountain led Wartburg with four points each in the second quarter while Dimitrique Inman scored seven for the Blue Devils.
The third period was more of the same as the lead swapped hands six more times. Wartburg did hold a five-point lead, 36-31, early in the period and Harriman held a 51-45 lead late in the quarter, but the Bulldogs scored the last five points of the frame to make the score 51-50 with eight minutes left to play.
Howard had a huge third quarter for Harriman with 11 more points while Justes scored five for the Bulldogs.
After scoring the final five points of the third quarter, Wartburg stayed hot early in the fourth. The Bulldogs opened the final period with an 11-2 run that made the score 61-53 with 4:32 left to play.
Wartburg held a 63-55 lead heading into the final four minutes of play, but Harriman wasn't rattled and started chipping away at the lead. An old-fashioned three-point play from Inman followed by four points from Gallaher made the score 63-62 with 3:04 left to play.
Wartburg responded with a 6-2 run that made the score 69-64 with 1:41 left to play, but Harriman answered with five straight points and the Blue Devils pulled even at 69 when Inman drove the lane with 1:01 left to play.
Wartburg took a 71-69 lead when Richardson hit a pair of free throws with 43.1 seconds left and it seemed that lead might last. Harriman ran the clock down and Inman missed a shot late. Wartburg's Zach Shannon appeared to corral the rebound and the victory, but somehow the ball came free and into the hands of Harriman's Ben Davis, who put in an off-balance 10-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
The first overtime would see the Bulldogs make the comeback. Harriman opened the extra session with a 6-2 run and held a 77-73 lead after White's lay-up with 1:56 left to play, but the Bulldogs would make five of six free throws in the final 1:46 of overtime to tie the game at 78.
Harriman had a chance to win the game at the end, but Shannon blocked an Inman shot.
The second overtime opened with Harriman scoring first on a drive by Inman, but Wartburg responded with a 5-1 run and held an 83-81 lead until Harriman's Tyler Dishman scored his only basket of the night to tie the game at 83 with 1:16 left to play.
Wartburg held the ball from there and elected to go for one shot and the strategy appeared sound until the ball came free and Howard made his sprint to the basket for the game-winner.
“At the end we knew we had to play hard on defense and our defense would get us points,” Howard said. “I was real tired, but when we came up with it I knew I had to get down the court as fast as I could.”
Howard led Harriman on the night with 29 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Inman (19 points, 9 rebounds, 6 steals, 5 assists), Gallaher (13 points, 4 rebounds), Davis (9 points, 5 assists) and Love (7 points, 13 rebounds) also put up solid numbers for the Blue Devils.
Fountain led Wartburg on the night with 19 points, five rebounds and three steals. Richardson (15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), Shannon (14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals) and Zeke Goodman (11 points) also scored in double figures for the Bulldogs while Cody Goodman (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) also put up solid numbers.
With the victory, Harriman advances to Thursday's Region 2-A title game against District 4-A champion Jellico.
“We're going to have to execute on offense and play hard on defense, especially on number two (District 4-A Player of the Year Cody Malicoat),” Howard said.
Wartburg (83) Fountain 19, Hamby 2, Shannon 14, Richardson 15, Z. Goodman 11, C. Goodman 9, Langley 8, Justes 5.
Harriman (85) Howard 29, Love 7, Davis 9, Gallaher 13, Inman 19, White 6, Dishman 2.