Jordan Lyons was clutch during Saturday night’s 68-67 overtime thriller at Starr’s Mill.
Had it not been for an all time heart-stopper from the Falcons on Sunday, this would have been the most intense game in Georgia all weekend. Setting aside the crosstown rivalry, this was a classic down-to-the-wire thriller. Add in two rabid student sections blowing the roof off after every big play, and this game was simply a classic. McIntosh eeked out the 68-67 overtime win over Starr's Mill despite surrendering a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter that squandered their lead and despite being down five points with only thirty seconds left in regulation. In terms of exciting crunch time play, this game had it all: key turnovers, dagger threes, hard fouls, and game clinching free throws.
It's easy to point to the high scorers after each game, and a couple players shined in this one. Starr's Mill's David Watson couldn't miss in the first half, draining four three pointers and scoring 18 of his team's 28 points at the break. He cooled down slightly in the second half but continued to make an impact, finishing with 28 points. On the other side, McIntosh's remarkable freshman Jordan Lyons had 22 points and sank the game winning free throw with less than a second left in overtime. While both players were great in the game, it seemed like every single player on the court made an impact play at some point in what was mostly a back and forth contest from beginning to end.
The story of the first half had to be Watson's shooting. The Panther sniper had his home crowd rocking as he hit bomb after bomb. In the first quarter alone he hit a spot up three, a transition jumper, another three off the dribble after pump faking his man into the air, a tough layup, and another fadeaway three in the corner to put up 13 of the Panthers' 19 first quarter points. He went for a heat check early in the second quarter, a long three from straight away, and drained it no problem. As the game went on, Watson started to miss from downtown, but his shots were so soft they frequently rimmed out and found a Starr's Mill rebounder for a putback. Even with Watson making such an impact early, McIntosh stayed right with the Panthers thanks to its own playmakers.
McIntosh guard Joey Bolen (12 points) answered right back to Watson's first two three pointers , and Lyons immediately answered another with a bomb of his own. McIntosh's other freshman starter, Will Washington (15 points), impacted the game in so many different ways as he seems to do most games. The super energetic and bouncy Washington created an easy layup for Peter Talisse off a nice little pick-and-roll, went coast to coast for a layup, and drained a three pointer in the first half. His defense and shooting late in the game were crucial to the Chiefs' win.
Starr's Mill forward Jeremiah Vrudny (17 points) had the best combination of size and athleticism on the court, and he showed it throughout the game, throwing down an alley-oop in the first quarter and attempting another late in the game that would have ripped the roof off if he could have converted it. As both teams got into the bonus situation late, Vrudny's ability to draw fouls on shots at the rim and get to the line was key for the Panthers.
The game was tied after two quarters, 29-29. Panthers guard Will Anda opened the second half with a three pointer, and he brought steady ball handling and toughness all night. He had a particularly strong third quarter, including a steal and tough transition layup that gave Starr's Mill a 35-33 lead.
The game stayed tight until the fourth quarter, when McIntosh began to pull away. McIntosh's Talisse put up a quick five points, extending the Chiefs’ lead to 48-40 with 6:30 remaining in regulation. The home team wasn't interested in going quietly (nothing about the game was quiet), and ripped off a 15-0 run, holding the Chiefs scoreless for over four minutes.
Watson started the run with a three-pointer. His next attempt rimmed out, but Vrudny was there for the offensive rebound and a tough layup in traffic. Watson then drew another foul, sinking both free throws, then was fouled again on a transition layup but made the shot and the extra free throw. Vrudny extended the 15-0 run with a big dunk to make it 52-48, then drew a foul on another dunk attempt and made one of two free throws to put the Panthers up five with 2:40 to go. Panthers guard Matt Walsh made it 55-48 by sinking two free throws on a one-and-one.
Now down seven with only two minutes left, things looked grim for the Chiefs, but they used the foul situation to their advantage. With both teams in the bonus, Lyons knew it was time to use his quick first step to take it to the hole for a layup or foul every chance he had, and he did just that. The Chiefs also cranked up their defensive pressure and Starr's Mill didn't handle it very well, making a number of crucial turnovers late that they'd surely like to have back.
Washington in particular was all over the place. With just over a minute to play, Washington sank two free throws and immediately stole the inbounds pass and dished it to Lyons, who was flagrantly fouled. Lyons made one of two free throws, closing the gap to 55-53. Starr's Mill looked to close the door though, sinking three free throws over the next few possessions to make it a 58-53 lead with thirty seconds to go. Washington immediately came down the court and hit a clutch three pointer, and Starr's Mill again turned it over, leading to a Robby Duff layup that knotted the game at 58-58. The Panthers would fail to get another shot off as they turned it over again, so four more minutes were put on the clock as the game went to overtime.
Watson opened the overtime in scoring mode, putting a sweet move on his man to get to the paint and hit a floater for a 60-58. The teams then exchanged turnovers before Washington came up with a steal and was fouled, converting one of two.
The Panthers answered with a layup from Vrudny off a nice big-man to big-man pass from Ryan Avidano, making it 62-59.
Lyons continued to attack the rim and managed to score or get fouled almost every time. Following free throws by Vrudny, Lyons came down and drew a foul with 34.4 seconds left and calmly sank both free throws, knotting the game at 67-67. Another steal, this time by the Chiefs' Duff, gave Lyons the chance to end it, and he again took it straight to the hoop, drawing contact with under a second left on the clock.
Standing at the line for a game winning free throw, the gym shaking from the roar of the Panthers' fans, Lyons calmly sank the shot and the Chiefs escaped with a 68-67 victory as their rabid fans stormed the court.
Chiefs coach Jason Eisele said "hats off" to the Panthers for competing so hard and putting up a 15-0 fourth quarter run. He said his team won with the toughness they've shown all year. "That's one thing I know about this team, we've won in all different ways. There's no give up in those kids at all."
While the win was undeniably a huge team effort, Eisele continues to heap praise on his freshmen.
"They aren't really freshmen to me anymore. Under pressure, Jordan is as good as there is, and he has great court I.Q," Eisele said, adding that Lyons "is his own harshest critic."
The Chiefs are now on a seven game winning streak, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has ranked them as the #9 team in AAAAA.