Allowing Freed-Hardeman to make the game close at the end was eerily similar to one the team encountered less than a week ago.
“We were able to make our free throws down the stretch after we let them back in the game,” TC head coach Matt Cross said. “It was the same scenario on the road at Saint Thomas a few days ago. We had built a pretty significant lead and we let them come back and they hit a shot at the buzzer on us.”
The story of the game for TC was free throw shooting. The team hit 17 of 19 free throws in the second half to secure the four-point victory.
In the first half,TC used their size advantage with Ray Lewis and Andre Jackson to jump out to a 9-1 early lead. The two of them accounted for all of the team’s opening nine points and six rebounds.
However, Freed-Hardeman went on a 10-2 run to leave the game tied at 11-11. Freed-Hardeman briefly took the lead following a 3-point shot by Ben Meis to make it 14-11.
However, TC rallied back to regain the lead following a Roman Vaughn basket that made it 15-14.
Freed-Hardeman came back to regain the lead after another 3-point shot, this one by Rob Perea to put the score at 24-23.
TC ended the first half on a 8-0 run that was capped by an off-balance shot from Phil Wood after he drove the distance of the court in 7.7 seconds and sank the shot as time expired to make it 31-24.
TC came out strong to start the second half, as they outscored Freed-Hardeman 15-7 early on. Jimmie Davis sank two 3-point shots for six points in that stretch. The 15-7 run pushed their lead to the biggest of the game at 46-31.
Freed-Hardeman responded with a 12-2 run that brought them back into the game. Mark Brown led the way with four successful free throw shots to cut the Tornadoes lead to 48-43.
It was Brown who helped the Lions cut the lead down to a mere point by connecting on a 3-pointer to leave the score at 54-53.
Brown showed hustle, too, when he grabbed a loose ball and Freed-Hardeman head coach Jason Shelton called timeout with 30.4 seconds left on the game clock with TC holding a slim 61-60 lead.
Lewis drew an offensive foul from Freed-Hardeman’s Daniel Gravatt that not only negated an offensive opportunity for the Lions, but also brought the Tornadoes a chance to add points to the board. Lewis nailed both of his free throws with 12.2 seconds remaining to increase their lead to 63-60.
Cross said he likes the improvement he saw from his team throughout the course of the game.
“I think our defense is picking up, our on-the-ball defense and our help-side is starting to get better,” Cross said. “We’ve got to continue to enforce rebounding more. We should be able to dominate teams on the glass. Offensively, I think we’re starting to understand how to play inside-out and get it down to the block more and then play from there. I just challenged our guys that hey, we’re at home now. We’ve gotta’ rise up to the occasion and finish this game off.”
Jantzen Carter finished the Lions by making a free throw with only 2.1 seconds left to give TC a 64-60 lead. Carter shot seven for eight on free throws in the second half, one of the keys to TC’s victory.
“That was big,” Cross said. “He’s an experienced player. He’s played at the top junior college league in the nation and won back-to-back regional championships and played in a national tournament, but he’s been off for a year. We have a few guys that took a year off that are just now trying to get that rust off and get back in the groove of things. Also, unfortunately, we’ve hit the injury train over the last two weeks. We’ve got five guys out with ankle sprains, which has never happened to me in my career but we’ve just got to weather the storm. We won our first game in 2013. It’s a new year, but a new season starts tomorrow as well as we start conference. That’s the most important part of the season, conference. So, we’ve got to be ready to play, turn this thing right back around and play Dillard here at home at five tomorrow.”
Jimmie Davis led TC in scoring with 20 points, while Andre Jackson finished with a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Ray Lewis scored 11 points for TC.
Freed-Hardeman was paced by Mark Brown, who finished with 12 points.
TC now has an overall record of 5-5. The Men’s team and Women’s teams host Dillard tonight starting at 3 p.m.