As the clock ticked down under two minutes during Friday’s LaGrange Toyota Basketball Classic game between LaGrange High and W.D. Mohammed, the score was deadlocked at 55-55.
The team that could make the plays down the stretch was going to emerge victorious, and unfortunately for the host Grangers, it was the visiting Caliphs who made it happen.
The Caliphs went on an 8-0 run to put it away, and they earned a 64-57 victory to land a spot in today’s championship game against Hillgrove.
LaGrange will play Opelika for third place.
The Grangers suffered their first loss and fell to 9-1, while the Caliphs improved to 11-0.
“LaGrange is a great team,” W.D. Mohammed head coach Qur’An Shakir-Abdul-Khall said. “We both came in undefeated. They’re seniors. We’re seniors. It could have gone either way. I’m grateful it went our way. It was great competition. I think it’ll help us both.”
LaGrange head coach Mike Pauley called it part of “the learning process.”
“They exposed some of our weakness areas,” Pauley added. “They’re fundamentally sound, they’re quick, and they play hard like you expect somebody to play.”
With the score tied, Joel Nuriddin came up with a loose ball and scored to put the Caliphs up 57-55 with 1:20 remaining.
After the Grangers missed a shot on their end, Muhammad Hamilton made a pair of free throws with 49 seconds left to push the lead to four, and following a LaGrange turnover, Hamilton made two more free throws and it was a 61-55 game with 36 seconds left.
Following yet another LaGrange missed shot, Hamilton hit two more free throws to push the lead to eight and put the game on ice.
Pauley felt the offensive execution wasn’t what it needed to be in the closing moments.
“We’re obviously disappointed that we didn’t manage some of those possessions better,” Pauley said.
The Grangers were down 13-7 after the first quarter, but they charged back in the second period to take 29-27 lead at the half.
The Caliphs went up by three two minutes into the third period, but the Grangers appeared to take control of the game from there, and they went up 41-34 when Dee Smith made two free throws with 2:59 left in the quarter.
The Caliphs, though, responded with a 10-3 run to take a 47-41 lead early in the fourth period.
“We really felt good about where we were at,” Pauley said. “The next thing you know, we had a couple of mishaps, miscues, poor decisions with a couple of shots. And it turned on us.”
The Grangers fought back.
Kwame Brown broke the 13-0 slide with a 3-pointer at the 6:45 mark, and a Smith 3-pointer cut the Caliphs’ lead to one with 3:52 left.
The Grangers pulled even twice in the fourth period, once on a Brown basket, and once on a Smith lay-in with 1:40 left that made it a 55-55 game.
LaGrange was unable to sustain the momentum, though, as W.D. Mohammed took control down the stretch.
Brown had a big game for the Grangers with 20 points, with nine of those points coming in the fourth period.
Smith added 13 points, and Baron Smith scored nine.
The Caliphs had four players in double figures, including Omar Majid and Hamilton, who had 15 points apiece.