The Marshall County Tigers' first game without senior shooting guard Blaise Spencer proved to be an adventure, as MCHS beat the Loretto Mustangs 59-56 in Lewisburg to remain undefeated in District play.
After building a 34-28 lead in the first half, the Tigers (13-3, 5-0 District) opened up a 13-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter and appeared to have the game in hand. The Mustangs then staged a furious comeback and whittled the deficit to just one with under a minute left before Marshall County staved off the Loretto rally with the help of two Hunter Osborne free throws and a couple of late defensive stops to pull out the three-point victory.
"With all the distractions and injuries we were just happy to come out of here with a win," said MCHS head coach Jason Tigert. "It wasn't pretty and it probably cost me a year off my life, but it was a W."
Despite Spencer's absence from the lineup, the Tigers continued to bomb away from three-point range and knocked down 10 of 31 attempts from beyond the arc, while shooting 44 percent from the field overall (21-48).
Reserve guard Dominic Matthews gave Marshall County a huge lift off the bench and led four MCHS players in double figures, as he hit 8 of 12 shots, including four three-pointers, to finish with a career high 20 points.
"Dominic has the green light to shoot the ball when he comes in. His job is to provide us with instant offense," said Tigert. "He hit some big shots tonight."
Point guard Cameron McCullough also tallied 13 points and six assists for the Tigers, while Hunter Osborne notched 12 points, 10 rebounds, five steals, and two blocked shots. Kedren Johnson had 10 points, six rebounds, two steals, and two blocked shots as well. Broderick Tears (three points) and Brandon Burns (one point) rounded out the scoring for Marshall County.
Although the Mustangs hit just 3 of 8 free throws, Loretto finished with 23 field goals on 45 percent shooting, highlighted by a 7 of 15 effort from three-point range.
"Everyone talks about Blaise's shooting, but he was also our best team defender. It showed tonight that we missed him," said Tigert. "I thought we had a very poor effort defensively."
Brady Kimbrel and Sean Long paced the Mustangs with 15 points apiece, while Josh Marks added eight points.
Loretto jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, before Marshall County put together an 11-2 run, highlighted by a pair of breakaway dunks from Johnson, to grab a 11-7 advantage midway through the first quarter.
After the Mustangs knotted the score at 18-18 early in the second, McCullough and Matthews drained consecutive threes to give the Tigers a 24-18 lead with 5:28 left in the period.
Loretto retied the game at 26-26 late in the quarter, but Matthews sandwiched a pair of treys around a lay up to put MCHS up 34-26 before the Tigers took a six-point advantage into halftime.
In the third, Marshall County stretched their lead to 40-31 midway through the period on two free throws by Osborne and a couple of field goals by Matthews and Johnson.
The Mustangs closed the gap to 45-40 late in the third, but the Tigers responded with a 12-4 run behind seven points from McCullough to forge a 57-44 advantage with 4:58 left in the fourth.
MCHS though failed to score over the next four minutes while Loretto rattled off 12 straight points to slice the deficit to 57-56.
Osborne then missed a three-pointer with 45 seconds left, but Burns grabbed the offensive rebound and the Mustangs ended up fouling Osborne, who calmly sank two free throws to make it 59-56.
On Loretto's ensuing possession, Osborne made a steal near mid court but missed an off balance layup and the Mustangs chased down the loose ball.
The Tigers, however, harassed Loretto all the way down the court and the Mustangs ended up calling a timeout with one-tenth of a second left.
By rule Loretto did not have enough time to attempt a shot and the game ended when the Mustangs inbounded the ball.