MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — Walters State trailed visiting Cleveland State for the first 38 minutes and change Wednesday night before taking the lead and appearing to be on its way to an improbable victory before the Cougars pulled the rug out from under the Senators in the final seconds.
Delaino Walker hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to pull the visitors within a point before draining a pair of free throws with 0.6 on the clock to secure a 78-77 victory for Cleveland State inside 'Z' Buda Gymnasium.
The Senators had trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half before rallying to take the lead with 1:46 left in the contest, but they could not hang on late for what would have kept them in a tie for second place in the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association standings.
With the win, the Cougars improved to 6-9 overall and 3-5 in TCCAA play, as they picked up just their second road win of the year.
The loss dropped the Senators to 14-6 on the campaign and 5-3 in league action. WSCC had entered the night sitting a game out of first place in the region standings.
With the game tied at 4 early on, Cleveland State seized control of the contest with a 16-0 run and eventually led 25-7 with 11:52 left in the first half. The Senators cut the margin to 33-21 on a 3-pointer from Westin Reynolds, but that was the slimmest the deficit would get in the opening 20 minutes as the Cougars took a 43-30 lead into halftime.
The Cougars extended the lead to 61-44 with 12:43 left before the Senators came roaring back. Kajuan Hale drained a triple out of a timeout which sparked what turned into a 27-8 spurt as Paris Taylor tied the game with a dunk before Miles Thomas made a layup with 1:46 left to put WSCC on top for the first time, 71-69.
The Senators led by four twice in the closing minute, but Walker's 3-pointer with nine seconds left set off a chain reaction. WSCC turned the ball over, and Walker was fouled with 0.6 seconds on the clock. He calmly made both free throws to put the Cougars back on top, and it proved to be the game-winning shots after Thomas couldn't connect on a long range shot at the horn.
Cleveland State shot 39.4 percent (26 of 66) from the field while making 6 of 25 from long distance and 20 of 26 from the free throw line in the win. The Cougars also held a 42-38 margin on the boards. Jonathon King tossed in 20 points to lead the winners, while Walker had 18, Darius Turman added 13 and Maurice Dickson netted 11 in the victory.
WSCC shot 37.7 percent (23 of 61) from the floor in the contest, making 5 of 13 from 3-point range and 26 of 33 at the charity stripe. Hale led the Senators with 20 points and 7 assists, while Thomas added 18 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and a block. Khiry Shelton tallied 9 points and 8 rebounds, while Jaden Lewis (8), Demontay Dixon (7), Kobe Powell (7), Taylor (5) and Reynolds (3) closed out the scoring in the defeat.
The Senators will hit be back on the road Saturday in Chattanooga to take on Chattanooga State (9-7, 4-4 TCCAA) in a Region VII tilt. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m.