SUGAR HILL — A turnover at the worst possible time, three momentum-shifting 3-pointers and a bloodied nose.
Lambert overcame them all Wednesday in the final period of a 63-61 semifinal victory against Cedar Shoals in the Lanier Christmas Tournament.
Logan Bush tore the ball away from the Jaguars’ Dontai Robinson and swept in for an easy lay-in with 16 seconds left to put the Horns ahead for good. Cedar Shoals guard Devante Johnson’s NBA-range trey attempt at the buzzer bounced off the side of the rim, and the Longhorns (9-2) advanced to the tourney’s semifinals and a second matchup with South Forsyth this season.
“It’s exhilarating,” Lambert coach Derrick DeWitt said of coaching in a tight win. “It’s just like watching a game on TV, except it’s the fact that you’re in it and you have more of a vocal part with a group of guys who listen to you and trust and execute the plan and are good teammates to each other.”
Colin Perzella led the Horns with 18 points — eight in the third quarter allowed Lambert to negate a 10-point halftime deficit — and Robinson scored a game-high 23, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Lambert made 33 of 50 field goals but converted only three 3-pointers to Cedar Shoals’ eight.
Robinson’s late steal from Jake Alexander gave the Jaguars (8-3) a brief chance at a final shot with the game knotted at 61, but Bush snuck up behind the power forward, reclaimed possession, turned around and had a clear lane to the basket.
“I wanted to pull my hair out because we had an opportunity to make a layup, and we didn’t get that chance [initially],” DeWitt said. “[Our players are] just so scrappy and [the Jaguars’] offense slipped just for a second, and we were right there … and got the ball back and scored two huge points.”
Robinson nailed three 3-pointers in the fourth, and freshman Deandre Mahaffey (18 points) hit Cedar Shoals’ third game-tying 3 of the period from the right wing with 30 seconds remaining.
Back-to-back Robinson putbacks gave the Jaguars separate two-point advantages midway through the final frame. Sean Monahan’s left-corner trey with 1:39 left bounced off the front of the rim and through the net, giving Lambert a 56-55 lead.
Robinson tied the game at 58 from the right corner moments later, but Danny Edgeworth converted a crucial 3-point play on the Horns’ next possession.
After leaving the game with a bloody nose earlier in the second half, Edgeworth reentered and drove along the left baseline in search of a trip to the free-throw line. He got that and more, sinking a sideways jumper as he fell to the ground.
He calmly sunk the bonus shot, and Lambert led 61-58 with 41 seconds left.
“It showed their fight and them choosing to win today,” DeWitt said of his players’ gritty effort. “That’s something I say a lot: ‘Choose to win.’
“They stuck through it.”
The Horns turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, contributing heavily to Cedar Shoals’ 36-26 halftime lead. Nearly all of the Jaguars’ points during the first two quarters came in transition, many of them off steals.
Lambert limited the giveaway total to eight in the second half and outscored Region 8-AAAA Cedar Shoals 17-7 in the third.
The Longhorns beat South 80-70 in the teams’ first region meeting on Dec. 2. The winner of their Thursday meeting advanced to today’s inaugural Lanier Christmas Tournament championship game. Results from Thursday were unavailable as of press time.
Cedar Shoals (girls) 55, Lambert 36
Lambert coach Seth Thompson didn’t spend much time discussing his team’s first-round, blowout loss Wednesday.
“I told the girls ‘just let this one go and move on to the next one,’” Thompson said. “That’s what we do whether we win or lose. You don’t even dwell on it.”
Probably good advice after the Lady Jaguars outplayed the Lady Longhorns in nearly every phase.
Guard Quinnesha Turner poured in a game-high 18 points, and guard Breanna Taylor chipped in 12 for Cedar Shoals (10-1). Christina Johnson led Lambert (7-4) with 12 points, but no other Longhorn scored more than five.
A bevy of Lambert turnovers led to transition points for Cedar Shoals. The Jaguars’ multiple defensive looks limited the Horns to 10 field goals (none in the third quarter).
“The name of the game for us is we’ve got to get up a lot of shots,” Thompson said. “We had a hard time getting into our offense to begin with. It was just a tough game all the way around.”
The Jaguars used a half-court matchup at times and went to several different presses throughout the game, producing turnovers and easy layup opportunities out of every scheme.
Lambert fell to the consolation portion of the bracket and was set to face South Forsyth Thursday morning. The best either team can finish is fifth place.