The crowd at Tuesday’s Liberty County High School playoff basketball game was standing room only. Panther fans cheers and yells filled LCHS’s gym as the game drew to a close and the home team clung to a 2-point lead. Dougherty High School fans were solemn … until Trojan Joshua Lewis tossed in a 3-point shot at the buzzer to help his team defeat the Panthers 59-58.
The loss abruptly ended the LCHS’s quest for the class AAA state title.
Panther Jordan McRae did his best to keep his team in the fight, hitting 37 points.
But, ultimately, Dougherty outhustled the Panthers at the boards.
"We are going to play you hard," Trojan coach Doug Poole said. "That’s just all we do. You are going to have to play us hard. We preach and practice hard."
Panther coach Willie Graham admitted his team didn’t do as well on the boards as the Trojans. He said McRae gave a valiant effort, especially knowing that his teammate and alley-oop partner, Rion Brown, was playing with strep throat. Brown, however, still managed to be the second leading scorer for the Panthers with 12 points.
The Trojans paced the Panthers in the first quarter before exploding in the second and closing the half with a 10-point lead.
McRae came out in the third prepared to get his team back in the game. He chipped in 14 of his 37 during that quarter. Brown added his 6 and the Panthers trailed by 3 to start the fourth. The boys chipped away at the Trojans and McRae hit Greg Richardson who tossed one in to go up 58-56 with 20 seconds left.
A charge, a turnover and a shot at the buzzer by Lewis ended the Panthers’ run.
Graham said it was not the ending he wanted for his squad and he offered his players some advice.
"I really appreciate the good season they’ve given us," the coach said of his team. "For all the exciting moments and all the happy moments, this is a small part of life, and if losing a basketball game … if this is the worst thing that can happen to you in life, you will have a good life. This is miniscule in comparison to a lot of things you’ll have to deal with."