Murad Dillard hit a 12-foot baseline jumper at the buzzer to Decatur High a 50-49 win over Jefferson Thursday night at The Spike.
The dramatic shot, which nudged the front rim before plopping through, capped a furious finish to game where Decatur trailed the entire second half.
Most of this night, however, was an aesthetic mess for the Bulldogs on both ends of the court.
When Adarius Lucas delivered a precision pass to Davante Meadows with 2:10 left in the first half Decatur led 19-11. But instead of laying Jefferson flat, Decatur went the next 6:50 without scoring and yielded 14 consecutive points.
“We came out punching them in the face,” said senior post Brett Riley. “Then all of a sudden, we didn’t keep punching.”
Decatur’s girls had no such reluctance. After a tight-fisted first quarter the Lady Bulldogs opened the second quarter with a 16-2 run and never looked back in their eventual 50-26 win.
The girls head into the Christmas break with a 7-2 record, and though currently unranked, figure to dent the AAA Top 10 when the new rankings are released after the new year.
After their early surge, the boys nearly waited too long to get back into this one. With Decatur going almost seven minutes without a score, Jefferson went from eight down to a 25-19 edge, eventually getting it to 40-33 as late as 3:50 left in the game.
“I don’t know why we [go into scoring droughts],” Riley said. “But I do know, when you’re not scoring you have to buckle down and play defense. Good defense leads to offense.”
Jefferson switched from a man defense to zone in the second half, and further mystified Decatur’s half-court offense by playing 1-2-2 full court press. Decatur had little trouble with backcourt pressure, but made most of its turnovers in frontcourt.
“I can’t explain it,” said Decatur coach Charlie Copp. “We’ve faced a lot of tough pressure and full-court presses this year. We should be further along than what we showed tonight.
“Tonight we were terrible.”
But then, at the absolute darkest hour, the light bulb went off.
Trailing 46-40, Cordele Jackson cut it to four with lay-in with 1:23 left. Seconds later Kendall Ford stole the ball, dished to Adarius Lucas for another layup and now it was 46-44 with 55 seconds remaining.
But after Jefferson hit three of its next four free throws this one seemed signed, sealed and in mothballs. Jefferson led 49-44 with only 29 seconds remaining.
Lucas promptly drilled his second three-pointer of the night and it was back to 49-47 with 19.7 left.
“In my book, that’s the biggest play of the game,” said Riley, who had six points and eight rebounds.
There was still one scintillating chapter left.
Lucas stole the inbounds pass and seconds later Meadows hit one of two free throws cutting it to 49-48. When Meadows missed the second shot, Jefferson’s Tyler Patrick was fouled after he rebounded, giving him the 1-and-1 with 10 seconds to go.
He missed, Meadows rebounded, the clock ticked and Copp didn’t call a timeout.
“Now that surprised me,” Riley said. “Coach usually draws up some potent offensive plays during timeouts, right off the top of his head.”
“I was going to wait and see how the play developed,” Copp said. “I wanted to see if we could get some penetration and if we didn’t I would’ve called the timeout.”
But Lucas maneuvered the ball inside the key and whipped a pass to Dillard, who got his shot off just in the nick of time.
It helped compensate for a rough night where the Bulldogs leading scorer had only seven points on 3 of 10 shooting from the field. Lucas had 10 points, Ford 10 points (seven in the game’s last 3½ minutes) and no turnovers and Jackson also had 10.
“It came down to [Lucas and Ford],” Copp said. “They can both struggle with their shooting, and they can be erratic. But they can also make plays, and when they do, like they did tonight [in the fourth quarter] it can turn the game around.”
Decatur goes into the break with a 6-3 record. Both the boys and girls play again in the Dec. 27-29 Wildcat tournament at Westminster, where each team’s guaranteed three games. The girls’ first game is Thursday at noon against Paideia, and the boys play Johns Creek at 4:30 p.m.