An overtime classic is what the second-seeded Trojans (16-9) needed in order to put away the seventh-seeded Raiders (9-16) and advance to the semifinals of the boys’ tournament.
It initially looked as if the home ballclub would run away with Tuesday’s contest early on, rattling off an 11-0 run to begin the game and entering halftime with a 33-21 advantage.
However, East Paulding flipped the script in the third by speeding up the game and forcing Carrollton into numerous costly turnovers with a full-court press. They managed to cut their deficit down to six heading into the fourth quarter.
“We turned the ball over too many times,” said Carrollton head coach Tim Criswell. “They were really running and jumping us and we just made some bad decisions. They made some plays and got some easy buckets to turn the game around.”
EP continued to chip away before briefly taking a one-point lead late in the game. A flurry of free throws from junior guard Marcellious Lockett allowed the Trojans to regain their edge, going up 70-67 with less than 10 seconds remaining.
Trying for one last three to keep their season alive, senior Raider guard Azer Tidor successfully managed to draw a shooting foul off Jeffrey Hodges and under pressure, sunk all three free throw attempts to send the game into overtime.
The Trojans gained control of the extra period immediately, beginning overtime with a Melvin Edwards jumper and a Lockett ‘And 1’ to give them a quick five-point lead.
As OT progressed, Lockett continued to take advantage of his opportunities at the charity stripe, by swishing free throw after free throw. He’d finish the game with a staggering 41 points as Carrollton survived and clinched a berth in the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Coach Criswell talked about his guys pulling it out in OT.
“We got some quick buckets early and that gave us a chance,” Criswell said. “That big kid for them (Sean Rutledge) is a really good player and Kevin (Swint) did a really good job on him. He’s a tough to cover and they have a couple of guys who can shoot it, but we got enough layups and made lots of free throws down the stretch that really helped us.”
For Thursday’s semifinal at 5:30 p.m., Carrollton will face host Villa Rica, who bombarded third-seeded Paulding County for a 67-44 upset victory on Tuesday.
Both of the Trojans’ battles with the Wildcats this season came down to game-winning shots late and Coach Criswell is anticipating another scorcher on Thursday.
“It’ll be a war, there’s no doubt. Villa Rica’s good and we’ve been fortunate enough to beat them two times but it’s hard to beat a team three times in one year,” Criswell said. “We have to have our minds ready and I just want us to keep fighting and find a way.”