MURFREESBORO – Postseason basketball success has become semi-automatic for Hampton.
Adam McClain forced overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the left corner and the hot-shooting Bulldogs made 11 of 12 free throws in the extra session to defeat Clay County, 80-70, in a Class A state quarterfinal Thursday afternoon at Murphy Center.
Ned Smith’s Bulldogs (29-6), who are making their third straight state appearance, will play two-time defending champion Memphis Mitchell (31-7) in the semifinals Friday at 3:45 p.m. Mitchell won 57-44 in the semifinals two years ago against Hampton, which also advanced to the state semifinals in 2011 when Smith was an assistant during the legendary Jerry White’s final season.
A semifinal berth seemed unlikely at times on Thursday, especially when 6-foot-5, 225-pound Wyatt Mabry made both ends of a one-and-one free throw opportunity to give Clay County a 65-62 lead with 10.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Clay County, as it had all game, made a concerted effort on the final possession of regulation to defend leading Hampton scorer Coby Jones, who nonetheless produced team highs in points (22), rebounds (seven) and assists (four). But senior wing Nathan Norris, who’d made 3 of 6 from 3-point range en route to 13 points, ended up with the ball on the left wing and drew an extra defender.
So Norris passed to an open McClain in the left corner. There wasn’t enough time to think about missing it, and McClain’s shot went through the net while the buzzer sounded.
“I was wide open in the corner because they helped off and I just shot it,” McClain said. “It was amazing.”
McClain said beating the third-quarter buzzer with a mid-range driving bank to get Hampton within 47-44 helped him on the do-or-die encore.
“Yeah … because I hadn’t really hit anything all night, and I had to go inside to hit one,” McClain said. “And it gave me a little bit of confidence.”
Clay County 6-foot-3 junior swing man Tyreke Key, a Mr. Basketball finalist, scored a game-high 25 points, including a basket that put his Bulldogs ahead 47-40 with 1:02 left in the third quarter.
But Jones answered with a put-back he a caught and released in the air without returning to the court, part of a seven-point flurry he had in a three-plus minute stretch. It included a three-point play he generated with a 6-footer off a driving jump-stop and difficult 8-foot pull-up in the lane that got Hampton within 52-49 with 5:14 left.
Jones scored 14 of his 22 points in the final 14 minutes. His 3-pointer gave Hampton a 58-57 lead with 2:15 left in regulation, and he drove the baseline for a 60-57 lead 45 seconds later.
“We’ve got a wonderful tradition here at Hampton,” Jones said. “The fans – I mean, they were lit tonight. They were out here, come all the way from Hampton to support us. We’ve got a great fan base.”
The final basket for Jones, who fouled out with Hampton leading 74-70 with 42 seconds left, came on a baseline drive that gave the Bulldogs a 69-65 lead in OT.
“We knew going in that he was their guy,” Clay County coach Rob Edwards. “I don’t know what he ended up with – more than we wanted him to, I’m sure. I thought we’d done a pretty good job on him to that point. It was one of those situations where big-time players make big plays. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, he made shots when he had to.
“That Hampton bunch – Coach Smith does a good job with them and they’re a class bunch, play hard. They’re good.”
Dakota Crumley made two free throws after getting an offensive rebound to give Hampton a 67-65 lead in overtime, and fronted Mabry in the post for a steal on Clay County’s ensuing possession.
McClain was 4-for-4 at the foul line in OT, as was Charles Butler. Crumley was 3-for-4.
Jose Velasquez scored 13 of his 17 points while helping Hampton stay within four (32-28) at halftime.
Velasquez finished 3 of 4 from behind the arc, and his lay-in on a crowd-pleasing diagonal bounce pass from Norris gave the Bulldogs a 71-65 lead with 1:17 left in the game.
“They’s staying away from me so I figured I’d see if I could make one, and luckily in went in,” Velasquez said. “I was feeling good after that.”
McClain, who did a good job defending a tired, cramping Key down the stretch, finished with 12 points. Clay County’s coach will never forget three of those.
“The shot that the kid made at the end of the game – you know, Hampton had all of the momentum going in to overtime,” Edwards said. “I thought we had it.”
Jonathan Browning scored 18 points and made 4 of 8 from long range for Clay County. His 26-footer tied the score at 60 with 1:11 left in regulation, and the southpaw added another from well beyond the arc that gave his Bulldogs a 63-62 lead with 28 seconds left.
Hampton will try to stone Goliath in the semifinals. Mitchell forced 18 turnovers while defeating Middle Tennessee Christian 55-41 on Thursday. Hampton had 18 turnovers and three assists in its loss to Mitchell two years ago.
Senior 6-foot-3 wing Tevin Olison had 24 points (3-of-5 from 3-point range) and four steals for Mitchell.
“We’re gonna come out and play hard,” said Smith, who thought conditioning aided Hampton in the endgame Thursday. “Free throws were big down the stretch. … Kids working hard and being in shape, I thought that was the difference. … I thought they got a little bit tired there down the stretch. … We stayed after it. We’ve pressed all year and I think our kids are in shape.”
Trey Williams is a correspondent for CarterCountySports.com in addition to Northeast Tennessee Basketball Yearbook. He can be followed on Twitter @Treywillwrite.