The first upset in the Class 5A boys basketball playoffs appeared to be in the making on Friday when No. 24 seed Zachary led No. 9 McKinley 54-51 with eight seconds left in the game on the Panthers’ home floor.
Enter McKinley senior reserve Donald Hunter, who barely beat the buzzer with a 3-point attempt from outside the left elbow, and the shot rippled the net with no time left, giving him his first points of the night and sending the game into overtime tied at 54-54.
Enter McKinley sophomore guard Tyrece Radford. Radford tallied 10 points in overtime as his team outscored Zachary 18-8 in the extra period for a 72-64 win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“Sometimes I forget his (Radford’s) classification,” McKinley coach Marcus Williams said. “He doesn’t play like any sophomore I’ve ever had.
“It’s playoff basketball now, a whole different season. The playoff atmosphere changes the game. Teams are going to play you tougher, everything speeds up, the fouls get harder, and you just have to fight through it. We’ve fought through adversity all year, so we’re used to it.”
Radford didn’t wait until overtime to put his mark on the game. He scored 18 points in regulation, including a second half with two slam dunks on fast breaks, a 3-point basket and an acrobatic drive for a layup that he finished flat on his back.
“I had a bad first half, and I had to step it up for my teammates,” he said. “They were doing their job, and I had to do mine.”
It was a game of two fearless teams not afraid to take the ball to the basket and not afraid to step up on defense. The officials let the players control the game, and neither team reached the bonus in the first half with only a total of seven fouls being called. They didn’t reach the second half bonus until the final minute. Williams praised the way the officials handled the game.
McKinley (24-8) managed to get the ball to Andre Lee inside in the first quarter and he responded with eight points. The Broncos had trouble converting on close in shots, but got six points from Corey Kennedy and four from Braylon Jones as the two teams fought to a 17-17 standoff at the end of the quarter.
The Panthers maintained leads of 28-24 at halftime and 38-37 after three quarters, but an Austin Veals basket gave Zachary (19-12) the lead at 39-38. Radford’s three tied it at 48, but Zachary had a 6-3 run to go up 54-51, only to see Hunter drill his buzzer beater to give McKinley new life.
“It hurts, it hurts bad,” Zachary coach Jon McClinton said, “especially when the kids worked so hard for it. Good luck to McKinley, though. They’ve got a great team, they’re very athletic, and they’ve overcome a lot of adversity. We’ll just continue to build on what we have.”
Zachary’s second-half surge was led by Calvin Adams, who finished with 11 points, including the two free throws with eight seconds to go that put ZHS up by three, and Demoine Bowie, who had 14.
McClinton credited sophomore reserve D.J. Collins with six points off the bench, along with two blocks and some clutch rebounds. Russell Daniels had two 3s and 14 points MHS.
Marcus Coleman added 12.