by Rob Grubbs
In competition, big moments come in different shapes and forms, but there is one common denominator: Big moments seek out the big-time players. On Saturday night, a moment was born with 14.6 seconds remaining. The Fayette County Tigers were down by three, and they needed a basket to tie and send the game to overtime. A miss would mean a long bus ride home, an off-season of what-ifs, and the end of a high school career for five Tiger seniors. But Ricky Knight is a big-time player. He seeks those moments, and he delivered, finding nothing but the bottom of the net to tie the game the Tigers would eventually win in overtime 69-62 over Lithonia to advance to the state championship.
After a missed free throw by the Lithonia Bulldogs that would have given them a four-point lead, the Tigers gathered the rebound and head coach Andre Flynn called time out to design the play that will live for decades in the memories of those who attended.
“Coach drew up a play for me to come off a down screen,” said Knight. “I knew we had to hit it.”
It worked better in real life than on Coach Flynn’s clipboard. Josh Dupree dribbled to the right of the court, while JeKobe Coleman set the screen. Dupree passed to his left to Knight for the fateful leaning catch-and-shoot. Did Knight know if it was good when it left his hands? He smiled and said, “Oh yeah.”
Knight had already displayed heroics earlier in the game. Lithonia jumped out to a 12-4 lead early and the Tigers seemed a bit shaky, but Knight scored 11 points in a row to give Fayette County their first lead. Bolstered by the growing confidence, their other 3-point weapon Coleman scored his first basket early in the second quarter, which proved to be costly as it further spread out the Bulldog defense, which was forced to leave their 3-2 zone for man-to-man.
The Tigers exploited that in two ways. Will Richard and Greg Smith were now free to work down low in the paint, and Bulldog post player Justin Myles got into foul trouble. The Tigers seemingly put the game out of reach when a Dupree steal led to a Coleman 3-pointer that gave them a 50-36 lead midway through the third quarter, but Lithonia charged back and outscored the Tigers 22-4 over the next 11 minutes to take the lead.
With the season seemingly slipping through the hands, fate was writing a new ending, and it started with the Knight dagger to tie.
“We have been talking about this game since July. Ricky can flat out shoot the ball,” said Flynn. “I was very proud of him and the great game he had tonight. That was a clutch shot, he had to make it or game over. He stood up and wanted the ball. He is a shy quiet, guy, but he wanted it. I am so happy for him.”
The Bulldogs were rattled, and Coleman created his own moment when he drilled a 3-pointer to start overtime. The Bulldogs never recovered from the two shots, and the Tigers dominated the extra four minutes for the 69-62 victory.
“The guys have done it all year,” said Flynn. “Every close game we pulled out, I just kept telling them to keep believing and good things will happen.”
In total, the Tigers made 10 3-pointers, five by Knight and four by Coleman. Knight had 20 points, Coleman 18, and Richard added 16. On a night his shots wouldn’t fall, Dupree made up for it by posting 12 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals.
The Tigers return to the state championship to face the Buford Wolves (28-2) on Friday night at the Macon Centreplex. It will be their first championship appearance since 2008, when the Coach Flynn-led Tigers lost by six to Columbia High School. Current Tiger assistant coach Cuincy Carruthers led the Tigers with 25 points that night at the Gwinnett Arena.
The roster is full of players ready for the next big moment. If not Knight, it will be another Tigers’ night to step up and claim the ring.
To see more photos, click here.