The game sputtered at the start, as each team went on runs with the Lions (13-10, 8-5 Region 4-AAA) jumping out to an 8-0 lead before finding themselves down 10-8 early in the second quarter. A 22-point showing in the second quarter gave Central the 30-16 lead at halftime and they went into the fourth quarter up 41-34.
Then shots stopped falling for the Lions and the region-leading Cavaliers (13-7, 12-1) built some momentum and took their first lead since early in the second quarter with 44.5 seconds left, going up 50-48. The final points of the game were all scored at the free-throw line, where Callaway was 2-for-3 and the Lions went 3-for-6.
"The difference in the game, we missed 16 lay-ups, we were 5-for-15 in the second half. There's no way you can beat a basketball team of that caliber. They didn't do anything different, we didn't do anything different, we just didn't finish at the rim and we didn't knock down free throws in clutch situations. That's something we've got to work on if we want to try to strive for our goal of making the postseason," Central coach Darius Smiley said.
Overall, the Lions were just 8-of-21 from the free-throw line.
Tuesday's game can do one of two things to Central — the Lions can use it as motivation to finish out the regular season strong as they enter the region tournament, or it can be lead to an early end to the season. Smiley believes his team will answer back on Friday.
"Two back-to-back losses by one point, that's tough. We've got to find a way to regroup, come back [Wednesday] and get ready for Jackson. It's going to be a barnburner again. We beat them in overtime at their place, and I know they'll be coming in looking for revenge. We've just got to come back ready to play," Smiley said.
Kahlil Wynn led the Lions with 14 points, while Justis Ward had 13 points and eight rebounds and Blake Reese posted a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double. It was Brandon Bridges' 21-point night that carried Callaway.
With the regular-season finale on Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Lions will take on a Jackson team they defeated on the road in overtime earlier this season on a special night for Central.
"I hope we can have a good atmosphere. It's Senior Night, we have the floor dedication for coach Scott Cowart and we've got to have this game for seeding purposes. I don't think there will be an issue, as far as getting ready for the game. We'll be playing for something. Hopefully, the kids can come back [Wednesday] and Thursday, have two good practices and come out Friday ready to play," Smiley said.
Central girls 59, Callaway 29: In their second-best defensive effort of the season, the Lady Lions (19-5, 12-1) kept pace at the top of the region with Chapel Hill behind a 30-point win over the Lady Cavs.
The defense never allowed more than 10 points in a quarter, giving up eight in each of the first three quarters and then just five in the fourth. On the offensive side, Central scored 20 in the third and 15 in the fourth to put the game away. Coming off its first loss of region play, that's exactly what Jimmy LeBlanc wanted to see from his team.
"What a great game Friday night, too. [Callaway], we were just able to take over in the second half, but this is a dangerous team. Down at their place, it was everything we could do. Our girls made some good adjustments. We were a little flat in the first half, but we picked it up and they got it together. This is one that really had me nervous, especially coming off that loss Friday night [at Chapel Hill] and they did a good job," LeBlanc said.
Brianna Cousins and Jasmine Thrash were the offensive forces for Central, but everyone on the court had an impact. Cousins finished the night with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Thrash put up 16 points and Sherae Bonner added an 11-point, 13-rebound double-double. Wesli Simmons did a little bit of everything, scoring five points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out five assists and nabbing three steals.
Eight different Lady Lions scored points on the night.
"It's funny. When you look down and look the points, Bri just had a great game. She cleaned up a lot of boards, but we did a pretty good job of moving the ball. It's spread out and there's that one big number. They had two, three girls down there trying to stop our bigs and [Cousins] did a good job of battling for everything she got. When you step back and watch, you can remember all these great contributions across the lineup and expect the scores to be 12, 11, 10, nine, eight, seven — it just wasn't like that [Tuesday]," LeBlanc said.
With Chapel Hill defeating Coretta Scott King on Tuesday night, the Lady Panthers and Central will go into their respective games on Friday night tied for the top spot in the region. If both take care of business, there will be a coin toss on Saturday for the No. 1 seed. If one slips up, the other will take the No. 1 seed into next week's region tournament.
Not only will a possible regular-season region title be on the line, but it will also be an emotional night when the Lady Lions host Jackson at 5:30 p.m.
"Friday's going to be a really special night, honoring our seniors first and then coach Cowart at halftime of the boys' game. It's going to be an emotional night for all of us. What I told them is we've got to enjoy all the things that are going on, but we have to take care of business on the court first. Hopefully, we'll do that and then we're going to have time to go to work next week getting ready for Friday's [region tournament] games," LeBlanc said.