HOWELL’S COVE -- Talladega County Central High School’s boys basketball team knocked off Class 1A, No. 7 Cornerstone-Birmingham 68-56 on Friday on a night when the Fighting Tigers figured out how to finish.
A pair of late baskets by senior Devilyn Keller and improved free-throw shooting proved to be the difference-maker against an Eagles team attempting to soar back into the contest. The Fighting Tigers went 10-of-12 from the charity stripe in the final eight minutes.
“I think it was just a couple of things with our game plan,” TC Central head coach Acardia Garrett said. “We’ve been working on some things, and guys have been getting better in practice. We’ve been in that situation so many times and we’ve lost so many games where we were up 10, up 12, up 15.
“I just challenged the kids to not do that, be tired of getting up, giving up leads and doing crazy things on the floor. Tonight, we took it slow, went minute by minute, possession by possession and we were able to just grind it out. We still had some hiccups there in the fourth quarter, but we were able to grind it out in the end when they started pressuring us.”
Garrett, whose team had let double-digit leads slip away at Winterboro and to Lincoln at home earlier in the season, said the familiar feeling never left him after watching his team’s 52-33 lead late in the third quarter shrink to a 54-48 margin with 2:41 remaining.
“The places we were losing games at was mental,” he said. “It wasn’t physical. I would put this team on the floor with anybody. It was mental, and we’ve got to get more mentally tough to withstand games like this and beat good teams.”
Cornerstone shrank that gap courtesy of sophomore John Stanford, who scored 15 of his team-leading 23 points in the second half.
TC Central and Cornerstone played tug-of-war with the lead in the early stages of the game, but with a 22-20 advantage in the second quarter, the Fighting Tigers closed out the half with a 14-6 run to go into the break up 36-26.
Senior Kentrell Duncan scored eight points during the Fighting Tigers’ 16-7 third-quarter run that sprung them ahead 52-33. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and three assists.
Keller led the Fighting Tigers with 19 points while adding five rebounds and two assists. Junior Jaylon Swain put up 16 points, five rebounds and an assist for the Fighting Tigers.
The win gives the Fighting Tigers a boost in confidence going into area play.
“Coming into this game, I knew that if we could get this win, it would be something to build on as far as momentum-wise,” Garrett said. “I didn’t want them to come in here and take our guys’ confidence because this is a team that if we’re fortunate enough to get out of the area and out of the sub-regionals, this is a team we may see again. We’re just concentrating on ourselves right now. It’s a big momentum win for us, so we’re just going to build off this and try to ride it into the area tournament.”