The Tigers (6-14, 1-4 Region 5-AA) rallied back from a 10-point deficit in the second half to eke past Chattahoochee County in a 57-56 thriller that saw sophomore wing Elijah McFarland knock down the game-winning free throw with 4.5 seconds remaining.
The Panthers (2-17, 1-5) had one last shot at spoiling Temple’s grand opening, but Chris Askew’s runner down the lane rimmed off as time expired, allowing Tiger coach Steve Robinson and the Temple faithful to breathe a huge sigh of relief and kick off the celebration.
“I think we gave the people a good game. This community, you know, opening this gym, we knew everything was focused toward that and a new beginning. We’re just showing our appreciation. I’m glad we were able to win that game, but I’m more happy about the way we won it,” Robinson said.
“The effort level was high. The whole idea of a blue-collar community, it kind of shows through our basketball play. It wasn’t about one person, it wasn’t about necessarily talent, it was about the fact that we work hard and found a way to make it happen.”
Following a back-and-forth first half, the Panthers closed the second quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 29-21 lead into the locker room. After Chattahoochee County scored the first bucket of the second half to stretch the lead double digits, the Tigers answered with a 19-3 run to go up 40-34.
Clinging to a two-point lead entering the fourth, Temple built its biggest lead of the night at 10 points when senior forward Trevor Shell got a steal and lay-in to put the Tigers up 55-45 with 3:04 remaining.
But the pesky Panthers didn’t go away quietly, capitalizing on a handful of Temple turnovers — as well as Shell fouling out with 2:03 to play — to come all the way back and even the game at 56-all with 16.6 ticks left on a Jamaris Jones field goal.
At the other end of the floor, though, McFarland got hacked under the bucket to put him on the line in the pressure situation. After missing the first free throw, he calmly sank the second, which proved to be the difference.
McFarland led all scorers with 19 points and nine boards, while Shell posted a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Senior guard Isaiah Strozier also reached double figures with 11 points and five boards.
And without even having a chance to practice in the new facility, Robinson was pleased to see his team’s first dress rehearsal — a live one, at that — finish on a positive note.
“Nope. [Saturday] was the first one. But we’re just happy to have a facility. It’s about basketball. Basketball is played on a court. You draw a basketball court out there in the grass, we’ll find a way to compete. We ain’t got time to look around and complain. But I’m just proud of those dudes. I’m proud of this school and this community to be able to experience a game like that,” Robinson said.
Chattahoochee County girls 59, Temple 37: Lady Panther guard Latrese Hubbard knocked down four 3-pointers in the first half and ignited a 12-0 run to end the second quarter to stretch a 21-18 contest into a 33-18 lead for the visitors going into the break.
The Lady Panthers (8-11, 2-4) would ride that momentum out the rest of the way, building as much as a 27-point lead late in the game.
“She’s a good shooter and we didn’t ‘D’ her up. We let her loose and she killed us right there toward the end of the half,” Lady Tiger coach Rhett Parson said of Hubbard.
Temple (0-20, 0-5) cut the lead to 16 points midway through the third quarter, but never could get it back down to single digits.
Charmin Moore led Temple with 17 points, while Hubbard dropped in a game-high 20 points.
Temple had yet to practice in its new gymnasium as of Saturday, but Parson said it’s no excuse for the setback.
“If you go into an away game, you’ve got to make shots, you’ve got to do what you’ve been coached to do. We’ve just got to keep working,” Parson said.