ATHENS, Oh – The East Tartans are going back to the Convo this Saturday, after defeating the Belpre Golden Eagles Tuesday night at the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University in Athens. East moves on to the District Finals after a buzzer beater by Will Shope ended the Golden Eagles’ season.
After a see-saw battle between the two Division IV teams, the Tartans took advantage of a missed free throw by Belpre with only 5.2 seconds remaining in the game. After an in-bounds pass, Akia Brown found an open Will Shope under the basket who hit the score and gave East a 59-58 win over Belpre.
The Tartans started the night off with a blast of energy, and gained a quck lead on the Golden Eagles. After a Drew Lowe three-pointer and a Blaine Scott score, East had momentum in their favor starting the game with a 5-0 run on Belpre.
The Golden Eagles would fire back with a pair of scores to tie the game 5-5 with just under four minutes left in the first half.
Shortly after East hit another pair of scores, which was then followed by four straight scores by Belpre, including three from behind the arc, as the Golden Eagles took a 13-9 lead over the Tartans.
Just before the end of the quarter, East would add another trey thanks to Kyle Flannery, to end the period with a four-point deficit, 16-12.
Belpre added two more scores in the opening minutes of the second quarter to take a 21-12 lead, but would then be held to only six more points for the remainder of the period.
East fought back and continually cut into the Belpre lead. As the first half ended, the Tartans nearly erased the Golden Eagles lead. As both teams headed back to the locker room for halftime, the Tartans had cut the Golden Eagles lead to a single point, 27-26.
The Golden Eagles hit quick in the third quarter, picking up a two-point score 13 seconds into the period to take a 29-26 lead. From there, East rallied with a 7-0 run to take the lead from Belpre, 33-29.
Belpre fired back with a three to reclaim their lost lead, and would add another trey. East didn’t allow the 35-33 Belpre lead to last long, as Blaine Scott tied the game, 35-35, with an under-the-basket score.
The lead would change two more times in the third quarter, before the Tartans would finish the period with a 42-40 lead over the Golden Eagles.
There were four lead changes in the fourth and final period of the district semi-final game. On the third lead change, Belpre took a 50-49 lead over East with 4:26 remaining in the game.
Belpre would continue to hold the lead until the final score sent the Tartans to the District Finals.
Five seconds is an eternity in a basketball game, and with 5.2 seconds remaining in the game, Belpre’s Deijon Bedgood was fouled by East’s Akia Brown. Bedgood was sent to the free throw line for two shots. He missed the first and made the second, to give the Golden Eagles a 58-57 lead over the Tartans.
After East coach Adam Bailey called a timeout, the Tartans had to go the full court to score. Drew Lowe found Blaine Scott at about the half-court line, who then passed the ball immediately to Akia Brown. Brown drove toward the right side of the basket drawing the only two Belpre defenders on that side of the court toward him. That drive left Will Shope wide open under the left side of the basket. Brown saw his open teammate and passed the ball to the freshman who put it up for the score and the win as the buzzer rang through the Convocation Center.
“Wow, what can you say,” Bailey said shortly after the Tartans’ win. “I’ve been around coaching and stuff for a long time, but it’s hard to forget a buzzer beating shot at the Convo to get yourself to a District Final, and to give us our 20th win.”
If the advancement to the District Finals wasn’t enough, East also got to celebrate a new all-time leading scorer, Akia Brown. Brown, a junior, had 1,343 points heading into Tuesday night’s game. After Brown’s 22 points, he is the new leader at 1,365 points.
Kevin Monroe was the previous scoring leader, with 1,353. He set the record in 1990.
“So many special things happened tonight,” Bailey said. “It’ll probably be one of the more special nights of my career, regardless of how long I’m around. It’s something that will stick around for a long time.”
As the game went on Bailey knew his squad would not cower in the face of adversity. As the East faithful grew nervous after Belpre took the one-point lead with only 5.2 seconds remaining, Bailey was still confident in his team.
“I could tell when they broke the huddle,” Bailey said in regards to his team after their final timeout. “They just believed in each other, and what we were doing, and what we were going to run. They just weren’t going to quit.”
Bailey set up a play for his Tartans during that final timeout. During the timeout, Bailey said he could see the fight still in his kids.
“When we broke it, you could just see it, and you could just feel it,” Bailey said. “Someone was going to step up, and it just showed Akia’s willingness to be a team player.”
Brown is the main offensive threat for East, but took the way of the assist in the game winning play.
“It’s hard to give that ball up when you’re down one point,” Bailey said. “He had a 12-footer that he’s hit countless times in his life, but he makes a perfect pass to a wide open kid.”
Bailey said he was proud of Brown and Shope on that last play, and the faith they had in each other.
“I’m just real proud of my kids for the way they just hung in there and battled all night,” Bailey said.
East will play for the OHSAA Division IV Southeast District Championship Saturday, March 5th, at 2:00 p.m.
East – Brown 6-9-2, B. Scott 8-0-16, Shope 3-0-7, Lowe 2-2-7, Flannery 1-0-3, Douthat 1-0-2
Belpre- Godfrey 7-1-15, Miller 4-2-12, Longfellow 4-0-12, Bedgood 4-3-11, Mason 1-0-2, Houghton 1-0-2, Williams 1-0-2, Waderker 1-0-2
Three-point field goals – East 4 (Brown, Flannery, Shope, Lowe) Belpre 6 (Longfellow 4, Miller 2)
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.