As the ball teetered maddeningly on the rim with his team trailing by a point, the tallest player on the court somehow wedged his lanky frame into a sliver of space between two defenders.
In an instant, Howard center Josh Sallette saw that his teammate’s wayward shot was not going to find its target, and the junior recognized an opportunity.
It was a good thing, too, because he never saw the ball, much less the rim.
“I just saw armpits and elbows, and everything got smaller,” Sallette said.
Somehow Sallette was able to get one of his hands on the ball and swatted it into the basket as time expired. Sallette said he knew he scored ... he just didn’t know if it counted.
“I never heard the horn,” Sallette said. “I looked at the referee, and he pumped his fist toward the floor, and then I just remember people jumping on top of me.”
Sallette’s heroics handed Howard a 47-46 win over GHSA Region 2-AAA rival Baldwin on Friday night.
“I was just doing what I’m taught to do: follow the basketball,” Salette said after finishing with six points and nine rebounds. “Just the right place at the right time I guess.”
Howard (6-1, 6-1 Region 2-AAA) trailed by four points with a little more than two minutes remaining. Baldwin, however, missed a chance to seal the game after twice missing the front end of 1-and-1 opportunities in the final minute.
Still, the Huskies appeared to miss their opportunity to steal the win when Brandon Glover, who had just pulled his team to within a point with a layup, stole Baldwin’s inbounds pass with 23.5 seconds remaining and lofted a floater that bounced off the back of the rim.
But Braves guard Tyree Solomon missed a free throw with six seconds remaining, and Howard grabbed the rebound and quickly called timeout. Howard head coach Jay Lunce then drew up a play in the break.
With the game on the line, Howard’s Cameron Dacus dribbled left to the baseline before lofting the ill-fated shot that set up Sallette’s putback.
“(Dacus) got a good look, but he didn’t get the lift he needed, and we couldn’t expect a foul to be called there,” Lunce said. “Fortunately, Josh was right on top of it.”
Dominique Gibson’s 13 points paced Howard, which reeled off a 13-1 run in the first quarter after the Braves scored the opening bucket.
Glover ran into foul trouble midway through the first quarter but returned to the game and buried a 3-pointer with 2:50 remaining in the half to extend Howard’s lead to eight points.
Baldwin’s Roshaun Milline, however, was successful beyond the arc as the first half drew to a close and Howard led 21-17 at the break.
Baldwin (3-4, 3-3) stormed back in the second half behind the play of Milline, who scored a game-high 15 points. His fadeaway jumper with a little more than five minutes remaining in the third quarter gave the Braves their first lead since the opening bucket.
Baldwin, which led by as many as five points, held a 37-34 advantage entering the fourth quarter before Howard’s late-game charge allowed them to escape with another win.
“We have to relax and do what we do best, which is using our help,” Lunce said. “We have to get rid of our mental mistakes. Take those away and we’re a pretty good team.
“Our kids are still learning. We need role players. Once some of our guys stop worrying about being a star, we’ll be all right.”
Earlier, the Howard girls basketball team won 46-35. Chelsea Stuckey paced the Lady Huskies (4-3) with a game-high 20 points. The Lady Braves were led by Jayla Waller’s 10 points.