LOGANVILLE — Faced with a pace not to its liking against a scrappy opponent, Grayson’s boys basketball team was forced to dig down deep in their Region 8-AAAAAAA game against Archer on Thursday.
And five free throws in the final 15.4 seconds, including two by Caleb Murphy with 6.7 second left, helped the No. 1 state-ranked Rams find just enough pay dirt to hold off the sixth-ranked Tigers for a 51-50 victory before a raucous capacity crowd at Grayson.
Earlier in the evening, the girls game also came down to the final seconds with host Grayson coming up with enough defensive stops down the stretch to hold on for a 53-48 win.
Murphy finished with only six points, including the game-deciding free throws, on the night to go with five assists in the boys game.
Meanwhile, Deivon Smith led all scorers with 17 points, including three free throws less than seconds before Murphy’s that kept his team alive, and added eight rebounds and five assists, as the Rams (18-1, 6-1), who are ranked No. 6 nationally by MaxPreps, got a big win in the middle of a six-game gauntlet that includes games against three state-ranked opponents and two national and international foes.
“Archer’s always a dangerous game,” Grayson coach Geoffrey Pierce said. “It’s a neighborhood rivalry. (Tigers coach) Joel (Lecoeuvre) doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does year in and year out. They play hard and they defend. So we knew coming in it was going to be a battle.
“I’m just proud of the way (the Grayson players) didn’t blink. They didn’t stop believing they were going to win the game going down the stretch. … You could see in their eyes they knew they were going to win the game, and they made the plays necessary.”
And making plays was very necessary against an Archer (14-7, 3-4) team that dictated a much slower pace than Grayson is used to throughout most of a game that featured 15 lead changes and three ties.
Even after the Rams used an 11-4 run to finish the third quarter, and then got a Deivon Smith jumper 12 seconds into the final frame to take their biggest lead of the game at 42-34, they weren’t safe.
Archer answered with a 14-4 run to first take its first lead since early in the third quarter on Christian Drummer’s driving layup with 2:34 remaining, and then break a tie to lead 48-46 on Brent Smith’s layup with 1:08 left.
After Deivon Smith missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 52.3 seconds left, the Tigers looked in great shape after Christian Hines got to the line and knocked down both free throws to make it a two-possession game at 50-46 with 29 seconds left.
However, Grayson got a major break on the next trip down the floor when Deivon Smith was awarded three free throws on a foul call on a shot from behind the 3-point arc with 15.4 second remaining.
After missing his previous two free-throw attempts earlier in the fourth quarter, the Mississippi State-bound senior hit all three of his shots to cut the Archer lead to 50-49.
Deivon Smith was then whistled for a foul that sent Mekhi Carter the line with 14.3 seconds left which a chance to extend the lead, but Ian Schieffelin outbattled a pair of Tigers for the rebound, and the Rams had a chance for the lead.
Murphy then drew a foul and stepped to the line trying to exorcise his own free-throw demons after hitting only 2 of 4 attempts during the first three quarters.
Murphy came through by hitting both free throws to put the Rams up 51-50 with 6.7 seconds left, but Archer still had one shot left.
The Tigers quickly inbounded the ball and a couple of pass gave Brent Smith a chance at a midrange jumper with the clock winding down.’
But Toneari Lane got a piece of the shot, and this time no foul was called, which allowed Deivon Smith to corral the loose ball and allowed the clock to run out to allow Grayson to escape with the win.
Schieffelin finished with seven points and six rebounds to contribute to the Rams’ win, while Justin Edmondson led Archer with 14 points and eight rebounds, Brent Smith added 11 points and six boards and Hines added 11 points for the Tigers, who suffered another agonizingly close loss to a big-time opponent after falling by just two points to No. 2 Shiloh on Tuesday.
In the girls game, Grayson (13-9, 6-1) built as much as a 12-point lead in the third quarter, and still led 46-36 following a Catherine Alben layup with 6:58 left.
But Archer (12-9, 3-4) charged back behind Cazia Nelson and Taniya McGowan to answer with an 8-0 run that pulled the Tigers as close as 46-44 with 3:41 left.
A pair of 3-pointers by Victoria Dames, who finished with a game-high 20 points, plus six rebounds, gave Grayson a bit of breathing room, but Archer had one last push after closing to within 52-48 on a Thailand Smith free throw with 1:19 left.
But a driving layup attempt in transition came up short, and Nyelle Lee hit 1 of two free throws down the stretch to put the game away for Grayson.
Lee joined Dames in double figures for the Rams with 14 points and added five rebounds and four assists, while Malia Grace pulled down 12 rebounds.
McGowan led Archer with 16 wins, while Nelson had 14 and Maya Jackson pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.