By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
With the outcome of a big-time district showdown hanging in the balance, the Model Laboratory coaching staff wanted to get the ball into the hands of senior forward Jon Ballard.
But, as the final seconds started to slip away in a tie game, it was obvious that plan wasn’t going to work.
“Their defense prevented Jon from getting the ball, so who better to have the ball than A.J. Hammons?,” Model coach Wes Scarberry said. “He’s a four-year starter and he knows exactly what to do.”
Hammons blew past a Madison Southern defender, got into the lane and scored the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left. Model had trailed by 16 points in the second half before rallying for a thrilling 56-54 win over the Eagles.
The Patriots (13-3) got 22 points from Ballard and 12 points from Hammons as they out-scored Southern 22-7 in the fourth quarter.
“We just fell apart,” Southern coach Shane Buttry said.
Southern (9-6) was in control for most of the game.
The Eagles trailed just once in the opening minutes (4-3) and led 18-10 after the first quarter and 31-20 at halftime.
Southern’s leading scorer, Tyler Abshear, had 15 points in the first half, but was limited to only four points after halftime.
Still, the Eagles took a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter (47-34).
“They doubled Tyler wherever he went and our other guys just kind of froze up,” Buttry said. “They stopped moving. No one was cutting. We just didn’t do anything.”
The Patriots slowly started to get back in the game in the fourth.
Model opened the final quarter on a 15-3 run, highlighted by a three-pointer by Anthony Gerald, a three-point play by Hammons, a layup off a steal by Zack Rice-Gordon and some solid free throw shooting.
The Patriots also cranked up the defensive pressure.
“In the fourth quarter we went back to our press simply to speed the game up,” Scarberry said. “Just to play at our pace. Our guys zoned in offensively in the fourth quarter.”
Rice-Gordon did not score in the first three quarters, but a putback with just more than a minute to get Model within a point (52-51).
After Brendan Hill tied the game by hitting one of two free throws, Rice-Gordon gave Model the lead with a clutch basket (54-52).
“I told him in the locker room that he played completely awful in the first half,” Scarberry said of Rice-Gordon. “But, he had three big baskets in the fourth quarter.”
Abshear tied the game moments later. Model got the ball back with nine seconds left, setting the stage for Hammons game-winner.
Southern got the ball back one last time, but Damien Harris was unable to get off a shot from mid-court.
Gerald finished with 11 points, Ballard had seven rebounds, Rice-Gordon had six points, Hill had four points, five rebounds and three assists and Jared Adams had one point.
Abshear finished with 19 points for Southern. Michael Rothermel had 14 points, Harris and Drew Taylor had seven points, Spencer Stone had five points and Trevor Huff had two points.
“For our seniors, this was a huge moment,” Scarberry said.
The Patriots have won six straight and eight of their past nine games.
Model is set to return to action Friday at home against Pineville. Southern is set to return to action Friday at Berea Community.