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Block at the clock gives Panthers 1-point victory (64-63)
Panthers face Shaw at home Tuesday
Rion Brown gets airborne scoring 11-points in the game. Nine of those points were from the three-point line. - photo by By Patty Leon / Coastal Courier
The rain outside didn’t stop the fans from coming in to support the Liberty County Panthers as they played the Worth County Rams in round one of the state playoffs Friday night.
The fans got their money’s worth and the Panthers got a challenging opponent in the very worthy Worth Rams whose 14-14 record didn’t reflect their ability to stay basket-for-basket with the Panthers.
At first it appeared the Panthers would control the scoring and tempo as Jordan McRae opened the game with a three-point shot, followed a few seconds later by another three-pointer from Rion Brown. But credit the coaching staff of the Rams Andy Harden who kept asking his players to stay focused and kept reminding them why they were here.
They started a 6-point run of their own and later scratched out a 6-point lead.
The rest of the night the teams traded first place several times, with the Rams giving the fans a scare as they carried the lead late into the fourth quarter. The panthers garnered a few good baskets from William Lee to hold the one point lead toward the end.
Twice the Panthers had the opportunity to edge out a larger lead but Terrell Johnson missed two free throws and Michael Manning missed one, allowing the Rams to rebound and run down court with 4 seconds on the clock and timeouts called, first by Worth County then another by the Panthers.
Those 4 seconds seemed like 4 minutes.
The Rams brought the ball in play and with the seconds ticking away, Worth County’s Arthur Blackmon went up for a shot. Manning went up too, getting the block at the buzzer. Officials blew the whistle and some froze waiting to see if a foul would be called. Instead the officials ran off the court as the fans ran on the court to celebrate the apparent one-point victory.
Head coach Willie Graham breathed a sigh of relief to have this victory behind him, but feels his team could have done a better job at wrapping up the game early.
“We didn’t do a very good job defensively,” he said. “We let them get down the middle and we knew they were going to try and attack us down the middle. Things we practiced all week we only did right three times in the game.
“We thought it would be close but we are not playing smart, we are kind of an emotional team. Things happen and we get emotional and we just loose it and in this kind of scenario where it’s one and done we have to play smarter. You have to maximize every possession.”
Graham said Manning was off his game for three and a half quarters but added, “But then at the end he came through for us.”
He was pleased with Johnson’s physical game at the board and said despite missing some free throws he was the big body they needed at the board. He said Lee was key coming into the game and adding big baskets.
When asked if he thought his player was fouled at the end of the game Harden said, “I’m a Christian and I feel like there is a reason for everything and that is all I can say about that.”
With Shaw (17-10) defeating Northeast Macon in overtime on Friday the Panthers earned a second round home game.
The Panthers play Shaw in round two Tuesday night at LCHS. Tentative tip-off time is 5:30 p.m.

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