MORRISTOWN, Tenn. -- Two teams tied for third place in the regional standings battled Friday night at Z Buda Gymnasium as Walters State and Southwest Tennessee renewed one of the most intense rivalries in the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association.
Friday's contest produced another instant classic between the Senators and Saluqis as Khiry Shelton had a put-back with 0.1 seconds left in the game to give Walters State an exciting 73-72 victory. The two teams entered the contest tied for third place in the region at 6-3 so the win was pivotal for the Senators as they hope to stay within striking distance of the regular-season title. Walters State improves to 16-6 overall while Southwest slips to 9-7.
"We made so many errors as we didn't take care of the basketball, made too many unnecessary fouls and had a couple of easy layups and tried to be cute," Head coach Bill Carlyle said of the contest that had eight lead changes and was tied six times. "There were a lot of lessons to be learned out of that game."
"Certainly we are happy for the win and if you beat Southwest, who is one of the better teams in this league, you have to feel good about it. But on the other hand, our team has got to get a lot smarter because we play out of our hip pocket too much. You can't play like that against good teams. But a win is a win is a win so we will take it."
Southwest built a 23-18 lead midway through the first half and later extended it to 30-23 when Cedric Henderson Jr. scored on a flush. The lead went to double digits when Justin Batts scored on a short jumper to make it 34-24. The Senators started their run at that point, however as Shelton scored on a put-back. Seth Lenard-Battle rattled the rim as well as the Saluqis with a dunk to pull the Senators to within a single basket of tying the game.
The Saluqis caught a break when Lenard-Battle was assessed a technical foul for smacking the backboard on his dunk. Henderson hit the free throw on the administrative technical but that was the last point Southwest could muster the rest of the half. Shelton gave the home team the lead at 36-35 with two free throws at the 1:11 mark and Miles Thomas's basket at the buzzer sent the Senators to the mid-game break up 38-35.
Walters State enjoyed a 52-46 advantage before Christian Jones drained consecutive 3-point baskets to knot the score. The Senators answered with nine points in a row of their own, capped off with Lenard-Battle's dunk. Once again, a big run switched the momentum as Southwest reeled off 15 straight points and reclaimed the lead at 62-61 at the 5:14 mark. Jones had another long-range shot to put the Saluqis up 67-61 and it appeared they were ready to run away with the game.
Appearances can be deceiving, however, as the Senators recovered and chipped into the lead and actually re-took the advantage with 1:10 to go when Thomas had a steal on one end and raced to the other end to lay it in for the basket.
The last minute was a wild affair as Henderson gave Southwest the lead again with two freebies but Walters State answered when Lenard-Battle hit the first of two free throws to knot the score at 71-71 with 28 seconds to go. Anthony Yarbrough hit the back end of a two-shot free throw opportunity two seconds later to switch the lead back to the Saluquis. Southwest head coach Cedric Henderson Sr. called a timeout with 4.5 seconds remaining to set his defense but it was all for naught thanks to Shelton's heroics.
Shelton led all scorers with 20 points which included 10-12 at the free throw line. Thomas had 18, Lenard-Battle netted 13 and Kajuan Hale finished with 10. Southwest was led by 19 points from Henderson, 15 from Jones, 14 by Yarbrough and 10 by Batts. The Senators punished the Saluqis for their miscues as they turned 19 turnovers into 27 points on the other end.
Walters State hosts first-place Dyersburg State, who needed overtime to top Roane State on Friday night, at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon.