MURFREESBORO – Edward Lacey raced the length of the Murphy Center court, down to where the Fulton boys’ basketball team’s fan base was sitting.
The junior guard, affectionately known to them as “Dudda,” gave them a quick double-armmed flex and a scream before he joined the Falcons’ timeout huddle.
He had to let off some steam from a frustrating afternoon.
The Falcons, which had struggled to put away a Memphis Mitchell team all game, had just gone up by four points on a Trey Davis layup with 1 minute, 30 seconds left in overtime — and it seemed like the Falcons finally had the cushion needed to advance.
But coming out of the timeout called by Mitchell, Lacey knew he needed to regain a sense of composure. There were 90 seconds left, and nothing is a given in the Class AA state tournament.
“We knew we had to stay calm and play defense,” said Lacey.
From there, the Falcons made just enough free throws — they went 3-for-6 in the final 40 seconds — to notch a hard-fought, 44-41 win in the quarterfinals.
And when that final buzzer went off?
“It felt so good,” said Lacey.
Fulton (27-4) extended its win streak to 17 games and will play East Nashville (27-6) in a Class AA state semifinal at 10 a.m. Central on Friday.
Fulton is seeking its fourth state title, the first since 2016. The Falcons were runner-up a year ago.
Davis led Fulton with 18 points but did it on 7-for-22 shooting. Lacey added 14 points. And Deshawn Page helped win the rebounding battle with 10 boards.
Fulton shot 33.3 percent from the floor, turned the ball over 16 times and shot 58.1 percent from the free-throw line. That led to the Falcons trailing by seven points early in the third period.
But Fulton came to life late in the third and took control of the game’s pace and momentum. Lacey’s foul shots with 1:26 left in the third capped a 7-0 run for Fulton that tied Mitchell at 23-all.
The Tigers went scoreless for 6 minutes until Mikell Rice sank a mid-range jumper at the third-quarter buzzer for a 25-23 lead.
Davis’s put-back score on a missed 3 by Lacey with 5:53 to play finally gave Fulton a second-half lead, 27-26.
But the Falcons’ free-throw shooting in regulation (13-for-23) prevented them from holding on to the lead. Trey West did make two, though, with 55 seconds to play to tie Mitchell at 31. Lacey then got a steal with 16 seconds left, but Fulton couldn’t get the final shot to fall and overtime ensued.
“I felt like this (game), points were going to be so hard to come by. I thought the first one to 30 might win,” said Fulton coach Jody Wright. “And I think a lot of it was that these are two really good defensive teams. There just weren’t a lot of easies out there.”
Fulton took its first-and-only lead of the first half on free throws by West with 7:12 left in the second quarter, giving the Falcons an 11-9 lead.
But they went the next 4:42 without a point until Lacey’s 3 from the top of the key cut their deficit to 15-14 with 2:30 left in the half.
Mitchell’s pressure on Fulton’s guards had clearly disrupted the Falcon offense, which reached the break shooting 31.3 percent with 10 turnovers.
Not much improved to start the third, as two more Fulton turnovers led to transition points. The Falcons found themselves down seven (23-16), their largest deficit of the game.
The Falcons answered the bell when it mattered.
“I was proud of how we finished,” said Wright. “Those last four minutes, it wasn’t a thing of beauty — but it was good.”