Talladega trailed 49-48 with 38.2 seconds left in the game when head coach Chucky Miller called timeout.
“We went to (Ahmad) Gooden inside and for what we drew up, we got the shot we wanted,” Miller said during the post-game press conference. “The shot just didn’t go in. They got a run-out on it. It’s a tough loss. Congratulations to Central Tuscaloosa. It was just a game of attrition. It was going to go down to the last minute.”
Gooden made a nice move to work around a defender and penetrate inside the lane, but as Miller alluded, Gooden’s shot missed and Central grabbed the rebound and used a baseball pass to get the ball to the other end of the court to Jevaris Richey for two points to give Central a 51-48 lead.
Marius Echols caught a loose ball and tried to rifle it to the opposite end of the court where Gooden was open. But Echols overthrew the pass and it wound up going out of bounds.
On the ensuing Central possession, Eddie Harris got open and streaked down the court for what would have been an easy layup but he was fouled. When he returned to his feet, Harris walked with a limp and had to leave the game. Sophomore Kendrell Walker filled in for him at the free throw line and iced the game by hitting both free throws.
Talladega was slow to get down the court, but Deangelo Pointer made an attempt on a jumper that missed before Central Tuscaloosa grabbed the rebound and the game ended seconds later.
“Ahmad Gooden has had a good career,” Miller said. “Most of our other guys are (11th graders). You’ve got to live and learn, but you’ve got to get yourself in this chance. There’s no guarantee we’ll get this chance next year. That’s why it’s very disappointing this year.”
There were two key storylines to the fourth quarter: Gooden dominated on the offensive end to keep the Tigers in the game, but he did so with three starting players fouling out with still more than two minutes left to play in the game.
Josh Madden fouled out with 3:48 left in the game. Harris made one of two ensuing free throws to give Central Tuscaloosa a 44-39 lead. The momentum shifted in Talladega’s favor for after Harris missed a free throw on a one-on-one opportunity and Kendarius Smith grabbed the rebound. Gooden scored on three straight Talladega possessions to cut the lead to 46-45.
But both D’Angelo Scales and Desmond Green had fouled out following the run, leaving Talladega vulnerable. Asked specifically about Scales, the table setter on offense, who had coolly handled the Central Tuscaloosa defensive pressure throughout the game, Miller responded, “When your point guard fouls out with about three minutes, you’re in pretty bad shape because the offense goes through him. D’Angelo played a whale of a game. He did all of their pressure; Central played great pressure on the ball.”
Gooden hit another basket that tied the game, 47-47. Richey came up with a steal and a basket while driving inside to give Central Tuscaloosa a 49-47 lead. Pointer made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 49-48.
“We got back the momentum right there,” Miller said. “We got it down to one; we missed some free throws that could have tied the game.”
To open the game, Scales got Talladega on the scoreboard first with a transition layup resulting from the familiar Talladega aggressive defense-used-to-create-offense to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Central Tuscaloosa attacked aggressively on offense, which resulted in Talladega getting into early foul trouble. Gooden and Madden both had two fouls with 3:43 left in the first quarter.
“We had to start our substitution patterns a little earlier and it cost there in the first quarter, but we got the game back under control where it was pretty well tied and we led most of third quarter,” Miller said.
Central Tuscaloosa was able to capitalize early on second-chance opportunities. Harris hit a 3-pointer after Richey missed a free throw to give Central Tuscaloosa their first lead of the game, 8-5. Vincent Davis made his first free throw, but put more points on the board with a second-chance opportunity on his miss on the second free throw. David Robinson closed out the first quarter with a rebound and put back to give Central Tuscaloosa a 15-7 lead.
Talladega answered Central Tuscaloosa’s challenge by being aggressive on offense in the second quarter. Madden led the team with six points during the quarter and Scales knocked down two free throws to tie the game 22-22 at the half. As Miller alluded, Talladega led by as much as 28-22 during the third quarter and maintained a 36-34 lead at the end of the quarter.
“We executed our play,” he said. “We don’t have anything to feel bad about. We played as hard as we could. Of course, Central did too. Like I said, when it goes down to the last minute, I would have taken that before the game.”
Gooden led the team in scoring and rebounding with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Madden was second in scoring with 12 points and led the team with four steals. Scales finished the game with eight points and eight rebounds.
For Central Tuscaloosa, Harris led all scorers with 21 points.
Talladega finished the season with a 29-3 overall record.