BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — Jahvin Carter earned every one of his 24 points the hard way Saturday night, including his game-winning bucket with 2.5 seconds remaining in the Class 2A state championship.
Lightning-quick guards from Douglass High and its seemingly bottomless rotation of athletes harassed and swarmed Alcoa ball-handlers all night inside Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center.
Carter dealt the final blow, though.
Douglass missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with 12 seconds left, and Alcoa forward Eli Owens got the rebound and handed off to Carter. The junior guard and Mr. Basketball finalist wove through the Douglass defense like his teammate Jordan Harris did in the fall with a football in hand.
Carter shook two defenders at the top of the key, got into the lane and went left to his left hand, lofting a layup over the outstretched arm of Douglass’ 6-foot-5 forward Tyler Johnson, who had three blocks already.
The shot cleared Johnson, kissed off the glass and then rolled around nearly the entire circumference of the rim before finally dropping through.
“That was the biggest bucket I’ve ever had in my career,” said Carter.
Douglass’ final desperation heave missed wide, and Alcoa — which led for a total of just 1 minute, 48 seconds Saturday night — got the 59-58 victory and the program’s first state title since 1967. Alcoa (30-8) also won it all in 1959, but this was the program’s first title-game appearance since 1992.
Carter averaged 28 points per game in three state-tournament outings and earned Class 2A Tournament MVP. Eli Owens, Jordan Harris and Brandon Winton joined Carter on the all-tournament team.
After scoring with ease in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Carter found offense much harder to come by Saturday. He didn’t score until the 3:52 mark of the second quarter — on just his third field-goal attempt.
After a sub-standard first half and then trailing by as many as eight in the third, Alcoa stood tied with Douglass (28-9) with 4 minutes to play. Douglass tried to pull away but Carter’s 3-point play at the 2:31 mark of the fourth cut Douglass’ lead to 54-53.
Carter then got two easy transition buckets at the 2:19 and 2:08 marks for a 57-54 Alcoa advantage. The latter came off a steal and assist by Eli Graf.
But Douglass regained the lead, 58-57, and then forced an Alcoa turnover with 53 seconds to play.
The Red Devils had the game in hand.
Alcoa fouled six times from the 49-second mark of the fourth to the 12-second mark, until it built up enough personal fouls to send Douglass to the line.
The Tornadoes then called a timeout just prior to Marjavis Chandler’s first free-throw attempt for Douglass, which had hopes of winning its first-ever state basketball championship.
Chandler’s free throw was a good stroke but the ball rattled in and popped out into Owens’ hands — setting the stage for Carter’s dash.
“The timeout before we came to the bench, Coach (Ryan Collins) said to get the ball into my hands, everybody put trust in me,” said Carter. “He said the kid was going to miss the shot off the front rim. He missed it. Eli got the rebound. I went in front of him and got it.
“I got tunnel vision and got to the rim and scored.”
Alcoa led for only 30 seconds in the first half, got out-rebounded, shot 33.3 percent through the first 16 minutes and committed 12 turnovers in that span.
Yet, somehow, Alcoa only trailed Douglass 26-24 at the break. Getting to the foul line helped. Alcoa made 6 of 9 attempts there, and it scored 10 points off nine Douglass turnovers.
But the Red Devils clearly owned the first half and Alcoa’s deficit was still minimal.
Douglass stormed out of the half, though, with a 6-0 run in the first 1:34 to pull ahead by eight, getting easy buckets in transition off defensive stops.
And that lead remained at eight by the midpoint of the third.
But the Tornadoes committed just five turnovers after the half and shot 52 percent in the final two quarters.
“A couple of our keys coming into the game, we had to take care of the ball; no live turnovers,” said Collins. “We had to rebound. We had to contain dribble penetration, was our third. Obviously, we didn’t check the box on the first one. We had 12 turnovers in the first half. I think turned it over three or four times on our first possessions. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was anxiety. Maybe we didn’t realize what was about to hit us.
“But, ultimately, we stayed composed. And we found a way go into the locker room down two. And when we went into the locker room down two, I think we gained a sense of confidence. I thought we had great leadership in the locker room. Eli Owens was a great vocal presence. Jahvin is also a steadying presence for us. But the message from all parties was: ‘Hey, that brand of basketball was not us.'”
Harris scored 14 points Saturday night for Alcoa, which ended the season on a 12-game win streak. He also had six rebounds and two assists.
The ring he’ll get from this championship will go with the four he earned as part of the Alcoa football team and two from the Alcoa boys’ track & field championships.
“Incredible young man,” said Collins. “He’s a great ambassador for our school.”