EATONTON — It only lasted a few moments, but Andre Taylor’s players were fuming, upset they had lost yet another lead to their cross-town rivals, and potentially, another close game.
But that’s when the head coach brought his players in close for a huddle and calmly asked them to refocus on their task at hand — winning.
Following a game full of lead changes, a near back-breaking buzzer-beater and a close, back-and-forth overtime period, that’s exactly what Taylor’s Central Chargers did Friday afternoon, as they beat rival Northeast 77-75 in the semifinals of the GHSA Region 4-AA tournament.
The win was the Chargers’ second this season over the Raiders and came three weeks after they held on to beat the Raiders at home in another clutch region contest.
“Any time we play them, it’s going to be a game,” Taylor said. “We definitely knew it was going to be a battle going in.”
There likely was no moment that felt more difficult for the Chargers than at the end of regulation, when the Raiders fought back from a second-half deficit to tie the game on a buzzer-beating jump shot.
Dribbling the ball rapidly upcourt with less than seven seconds remaining, Northeast guard Michael Palmer positioned himself just inside the 3-point arc and unloaded a jumper as time expired. Bringing the game to a tie, he and the Raiders excitedly and loudly walked off the court, as they realized they had a chance at a big comeback victory.
“I told him to feel his way through the lane, and once he got into an open area to take a shot or not,” Northeast head coach Dartez Talbot said. “And then we had (forward) Marvelle (Harris) there in the post, so if he felt like he needed to, he could dump it off to him. But he decided to take the shot instead, and that’s what we know he can do and always hope he can do.”
The final dagger in a 20-point fourth-quarter effort, the game-tying jumper seemed to snatch all the momentum Central had built up in a 24-point second half and had the Raiders poised to snatch a win from the surging Chargers.
But Taylor didn’t want to see that to happen. It was at that moment that he gathered his players for a brief, on-court meeting and got them believing victory was still a part of their destiny.
“I had to settle them down,” Taylor said. “When they came over, after (Palmer) made that shot, I told them, ‘We still have another game to play. This is a brand new ballgame. We did it in regulation, now we can do it even more in overtime.’ ”
Following his advice, the Chargers snapped right to life, virtually matching Northeast shot-for-shot in the extra quarter. Although the Raiders took an early overtime lead, it was the Chargers who got the final lead of the game, when Central guard Xavier Card knocked down a long 3-pointer in front of his bench with 55 seconds remaining.
“That was gutsy, that showed a lot of guts to take that shot,” Taylor said. “It’s just big to have a guy on your team who can not only make a shot like that but who has the guts to take it. If we have a situation where we need a 3, he’ll be the one to take it every time.”
Card, who finished with 21 points, wasn’t the only Chargers player to kick into an extra gear after regulation, junior Matthew Brabham also came away with six points in the overtime.
As the Chargers head into today’s region championship, the Northeast girls will be representing Bibb County in their respective bracket.
In their semifinal against Henry County, the Raiderettes won 65-35. Coming away with the blowout victory, Northeast was led by senior guard Erica Travet, who had 24 points, and freshman Jerryshia Williams, who had 10 rebounds.