Making a lasting impression was only one of the goals for McKinley on senior night. Winning a district title was the other.
One of the six seniors, Donald Hunter, made it memorable on both counts.
Hunter scooped up a pass from Tyrece Radford off of a turnover and scored on a layup just before the buzzer to give McKinley a 65-63 victory over East Ascension in a game that decided the District 5-5A basketball title Tuesday night at MHS.
“Tyrece tipped the ball, threw it and then I grabbed it,” Hunter said. “I was worried about making the layup more than I was about how much time there was on the clock.
“I had to make sure I made it. This is big for us … real big.”
Indeed it is. With the win, the Panthers (24-7, 9-0) clinched the 5-5A title, the school’s first district title since 1996. Radford, a sophomore, helped put the Panthers in position to win by single-handedly erasing an eight-point EAHS lead in the final 2:21.
Radford made two 3-pointers first. His twisting layup in the lane with 1:35 remaining tied it at 63-63. He finished with a game-high 22 points as McKinley closed on a 10-0 run. Marcus Coleman added 18. Le’Aaron Cain led East Ascension (26-6, 7-2) with 18 points. Bilal Frank and Koye Ruffin each had 12 for the Spartans.
Cain, Radford and Coleman all played a key role in the final sequence. East Ascension called a timeout with 1:03 left and elected to spread the floor in an effort to milk the clock for a final shot.
The Spartans weaved around the exterior of the 3-point line and coach Barry Whittington called another timeout with a 11.9 seconds left.
It went as planned initially. Cain got the ball in his hands and drove toward the goal with Coleman defending. Radford stepped in and knocked the ball away with just under seven seconds left.
The pass from Radford landed ahead of Hunter, who gathered it in and moved toward the basket for the game-winning layup. The stands erupted and fans soon spilled onto the court.
“We got the ball in the hands of the guy we wanted to have it,” Whittington said. “We just didn’t make the play. (McKinley) played solid defense.
“And you know it’s tough because winning a district championship was one of our big goals. Now we’ll have to concentrate on the playoffs.”
East Ascension went on a 7-0 run to dig its way out of an early hole and led by as much as four points in the first quarter.
Cain played a pivotal role for EAHS by sinking four free throws and scoring on a layup to give the Spartans a 19-16 lead in the final seconds. But Radford’s tip-in just before the buzzer to make it 19-18 after one quarter.
McKinley turned the tables with a 9-3 second-quarter run. The Panthers led by as a much as seven points and took a 37-32 lead into halftime.
Hunter, who finished with nine points, made a 3-pointer that gave McKinley a 48-41 lead with 2:37 left in the third quarter. But EAHS rallied to pull within two at 52-50 to start the final quarter.
Baskets by Frank and Justin Harris gave EAHS the lead with 5:17 remaining. A 3-pointer from the baseline by Ruffin gave the Spartans a 61-55 lead with 3:26 to go. Marques Anderson’s bucket made it 63-55. Radford and Hunter took it from there.
“I was hoping we’d make a play on defense and force overtime,” McKinley interim coach Marcus Williams said. “That was something. … it was special.”