Maybe the best way to look at this game is the way Ralph Watts saw it.
“It was nerve-wracking,’’ Watts said. “You can be nervous, but you can’t play nervous.’’
Maybe that’s what won this one in the end, this 65-64 hang-on-to-anything-you-can-grab Corsicana win over Jacksonville Friday night.
It’s a game the Tigers had to have and they had just enough to win it.
They didn’t even score a basket in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over 11 times in the final eight minutes, but they made it — just like they made those clutch free throws to put away Jacksonville, which came back from a 15-point deficit to get on everyone’s nerves.
Cana still led 61-54 with 1:20 left before the Indians explode for a 7-2 run that included 3 by Raybon Ragsdale, who led Jacksonville with 20 points, with 1:20 left, a steal and drive by Dayton Thompson and a tip-in by Ragsdale with 35 seconds left to close to 63-61.
But the Tigers, who were living on the free throw line, stayed alive when Watts hit a free throw with 33 seconds left and hit an even bigger one with 11 seconds left to lift Corsicana to a 65-61 lead.
Jacksonville flew down the court and Datavion Thacker busted a 3 with 0:03 on the clock to make the final a one-pint game.
You could almost hear the Tigers say a collective, “whew,’’ when it ended.
Cana made 12 of 18 free throws in the fourth and finished the game making 27 of 47 from the line.
“It was pretty exciting,’’ said Mike Lewis, who scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds to go along with two blocks and a pretty emphatic dunk. “It had my adrenaline going but at the same time we had to stay focused and we made most of our free throws, which surprised me.’’
Lewis made 5-of-6 free throws in the fourth.
“Coach told us that they had to foul us because they didn’t have any time outs,’’ Lewis said. “And we stepped up. We were focused on getting this win.’’
The Tigers (15-10) almost had to have it. They started the night at 2-4 in the District 16-4A race, tied for the fourth spot, and the top four teams make it to the postseason.
“It meant a lot,’’ Lewis said. “We want to improve ourselves and get the third spot going into the playoffs. We knew we were 2-4 and they were 4-3 and we were focused on getting the win.’’
Watts said it meant lot and called it a, “motivator.’’ He said they had to have it.
“We put too much work into it not to get anything out of it,’’ said Watts, who led everyone with 21 points. “We wanted this win. We played harder than them. We didn’t make our free throws to start, but we made them when we had to.’’
That’s what this team is growing into — a clutch group that is learning how to win close games.
“You can tell we haven’t been in a lot of close games,’’ Coach Don Newton said. We’ve played well, but we always don’t get the horse in the barn.
“We needed that win,’’ h said. “This league is very balanced. The fifth and sixth teams have beaten the first and second teams. We’re tied for fourth and we want that third spot. The fourth team in this district will play (top-seeded) Lancaster, the No. 3 team in the state.’’
The idea is avoid that showdown. Jonah McKissack had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and he also blocked a shot. Danair Martin scored seven points and Jamaal Evans dropped in six.
Corsicana — and especially Lewis — came out like it was do or die and ripped off a 9-0 lead before the Indians (20-9) knew what hit them. Lewis scored six of Corsicana’s first 11 points and had a rim-shaking dunk to put the Tigers ahead 11-3 after Ragsdale got Jacksonville on the board.
“Coach has been telling me I need to step up,’’ Lewis said.
He did. Ad so did the Tigers, who built their biggest lead of the night to 15 points (48-33 late in the third) before Ragsdale hit back-to-back 3s to close to 48-39. Lewis took a touchdown pass on a fastbreak and scored to end the third, up 52-39.
But that was Corsicana’s last basket.
“I felt our effort was superior most of the night,’’ Newton said. “They came back, but when the game was on the line we had some guys step up and make some free throws. The kids played hard.’’
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Maybe the best way to look at this game is the way Ralph Watts saw it.
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