BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — Before both teams left the court Thursday following a 84-76, double-overtime thriller in the Class 3A state semifinals, Jackson South Side coach Brent McNeal sought out Elizabethton seniors Lina Lyon and Renna Lane.
They had earned his respect and he wanted to pay that to them, as the duo helped give unbeaten South Side arguably its toughest game of the season.
And they nearly pulled off the upset.
Still, Elizabethton — which led by as many as 15 in the first half and by as many as eight in the fourth — eventually ran out of steam and able bodies in the second overtime and fell to the 2022 state runner-up Hawks by eight points inside the Murphy Center at Middle Tennessee State.
The 84-76 outcome was the second-highest scoring game in TSSAA girls’ basketball state tournament history, but it also ended Elizabethton’s 20-game win streak.
Lyon got off her patented floater in the lane just before the end of the first overtime, with the score knotted at 67-all, but the shot bounded off the front of the rim.
The shot was dead on line. Just a touch short.
“I knew that’s normally my shot. I knew it was going in,” said Lyon, who finished with a team-high 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists in her final prep game. “I knew we had another opportunity. We all played our butts off. It just wasn’t in God’s plan for us to go the state championship on Saturday.”
McNeal thought Lyon’s final shot could have been the end for his Lady Hawks (33-0), who now advance to Saturday’s championship against Livingston Academy (29-7).
“She’s a phenomenal player,” McNeal said of Lyon.
“But, yes, you hold your breath (during Lyon’s final shot) and just hope we get another crack at it.”
After enjoying a 15-point lead in the first half only to see it completely dissolve in the third quarter, Elizabethton (30-5) weathered that storm and led 52-46 at the 7-minute mark of the fourth following a 3-pointer by Reiley Whitson (13 points). Lyon added a jumper some 30 seconds later for an eight-point advantage.
But the game got tight down the stretch, and when Lane (16 points, nine rebounds, five assists) fouled out with 1:07 to play, chances at a win for Elizabethton looked bleak. South Side made the two foul shots for a 60-59 lead.
But Marlee Mathena, the 6-2 junior forward at Elizabethton, offered hope when she came up clutch with two free-throw makes with 33.7 seconds left, regaining the lead (61-60) for Elizabethton.
Albany Collins nearly stole the win from Elizabethton, burying a 3 with 24 seconds left for a 63-61 South Side lead. But Lyon came right back on the other end and hit a contested floater with 6 seconds left that eventually forced overtime. South Side had a final possession but didn’t get off a shot.
Ti’mia Lawson made 16 of 21 free-throw attempts for South Side, even admittedly shooting better than normal at the line than she’s accustomed to doing. But on Thursday, she made critical shot after critical shot there. “It comes when it comes,” she said.
After she made two with 1:32 left in the first overtime that tied the game at 67-all, Lyon missed two on the other end. South Side rebounded and held for the final shot.
Collins missed a 3 with 12 seconds left, and Elizabethton — after a South Side turnover — finally got possession of the ball with 6.9 to go.
Lyon took the inbounds pass and raced down the floor, weaving in and round Hawk defenders, until she finally got into the lane for a great look. It just didn’t go.
Lawson made a three-point play with 1:31 left in double overtime that fouled out Mathena and gave South Side a 75-71 lead. That essentially proved the knockout blow, and South Side made 7 of 8 at the free-throw line in the final 58 seconds to break away.
Elizabethton played out of its mind in the first half en route to a 34-22 halftime advantage. Sure, there was a turnover here or there. But, for the most part, the Lady Cyclones expertly handled South Side’s speed and defense.
Elizabethton shot 50 percent from the floor, made 4 of 6 from the 3-point line and made all 12 of its free-throw attempts.
It also won the rebounding margin, 20-10.
“Two nights ago, when we started digging into game plan and what we were going to do, just the (mental) lock-in from everybody, coaches, all of us, had a hand in what we were going to do, players had a hand in what we were going to do,” said Andrews. “Just extremely proud of our kids. Coming out and executing the game plan. Who knows if it was the right game plan. But just the effort our kids were giving was the right game plan.
“That’s what I’m proud of: giving complete effort on both ends of the floor and playing like it’s a chance to go to the state title game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Lyon picked up her third foul with 2:28 left in the first half. Elizabethton turned the ball over four times in the last 2:28 without her and committed nine total in the half.
South Side scored at the buzzer to trim the deficit to 12 by the break.
By the 3:40 mark of the third quarter, South Side trailed just 40-38. The Lady Hawks imposed its chaotic brand of pressure-defense basketball on Elizabethton and got back in the game. Elizabethton finished with 19 turnovers. South Side had just six.
Collins hit a 3 from the right wing to give South Side its first lead of the game, 43-42, with 2:45 remaining in the third.
Lane made two technical foul shots at the 2:00 mark to give the Lady Cyclones back the lead (44-43). And her spinning drive into the lane with 1:18 left in the third made it a 46-44 Betsy advantage.
Lane’s cross-court assist to Lyon on the right wing for 3 led to a third-quarter buzzer-beater and 49-45 Elizabethton lead with a quarter to play. And Lyon still only had three fouls.
She never fouled out, allowing Elizabethton to still have a steady heartbeat deep into the contest.
“That’s been this team the past 2-3 years, taking the hits and just keep playing. We knew (the Hawks) were going to come out and pressure hard. That’s the style for them,” said Andrews. “But I thought we handled it well.
“It just wasn’t in the cards at the end.”