As Alpharetta center Davontae Cacok went to the free throw line and the Raiders’ student section tried to restrain their excitement, Lambert senior Logan Bush turned away from Cacok, squatted near mid-court and chewed on the top of his jersey. Only 2.3 seconds remained on the clock. Cacok made both free throws, but it was merely protocol. There was little Bush and the Longhorns could do by then.
Lambert inbounded the ball and the clock ran out on the Longhorns’ 75-65 overtime loss to Alpharetta in the Region 6-AAAAAA championship Tuesday at West Forsyth, a disappointing conclusion to a game Lambert let slip away over the final 6:26 of the fourth quarter and overtime to spoil its chances at the program’s first region title.
“That was a very disappointing locker room,” Lambert coach Scott Bracco said. “It’s a disappointing loss when you give possessions away. We gave that away by not closing away the game.”
The Longhorns made progress nonetheless in reaching the region championship for the first time since the school opened in 2009. Lambert will be a No. 2 seed in Saturday’s first round of the Class AAAAAA tournament and host a state basketball playoff game, another program-first.
But Tuesday hurt, if only because Lambert earned the top seed in the region tournament thanks in part to a sweep of the Raiders in two meetings during the regular season. The Longhorns felt its program was advanced enough to expect to win the region title, not merely compete for it.
When Lambert led 61-53 with 2:46 left after a pair of free throws by guard Tanner Hall, it appeared the Longhorns’ goal was within their grasp.
Then Cacok, who battled foul trouble throughout the first three-and-a-half quarters and managed just two points until that point, drove baseline for a lay-up. Bryan Roberts was fouled on a driving floater and made the free throw to cut Lambert’s lead to 61-58 with 1:37 left. Afam Maduka tied it up with a 3-pointer with 21.9 seconds left.
Lambert had a chance to win the game, but Hall was called for an offensive foul on a drive to the basket.
“[Alpharetta] picked up the pressure a little bit,” Bracco said. “We’ll take the blame for what we did on the floor. We should’ve been stronger with the ball. We need to do a better job of protecting the basketball when people turn up the pressure, and we’ve improved on that all year. This game just came down to two possessions, and we did not protect the basketball.”
Overtime was no kinder to the Longhorns. Trevor Shipes (11 points, seven rebounds, four blocks) made a put-back lay-up to tie the game at 63, but Cacok finally emerged, making transition lay-ups on back-to-back possessions and six free throws down the stretch.
When Maduka threw down a breakaway dunk to make it 73-65, the teams and the crowds knew it was over.
Bush led the Longhorns with 20 points to go along with six rebounds but suffered a hard collision with Cacok in overtime that required attention from paramedics after the game.
The bright spot for Lambert was junior guard Patrick Noble, who came off the bench to score 10 of his 12 points in the first half in which the Longhorns built a 34-26 lead.
Lambert just couldn’t hold on.
“Patrick played huge for us tonight,” Bracco said. “He made shots, played great defense, made a lot of things happen. He’s played great for us all year.”