By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
Coming into the East Central Classic, Newton County was seeded No. 11 out of 12 teams. Saturday, the Cougars continued to disprove doubters, beating Morton 58-56 in overtime to take home the ECCC championship.
“We had to prove everyone wrong,” tournament MVP Rakenyea Cole said. “We showed up, and everybody played team ball. We just got through it.”
The two teams went back-and-forth all game, with both answering the call when it appeared the other had pulled away.
The Cougars led 48-45 with a 1:14 left on the clock when Morton’s Tyree McAroy hit a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game.
The Cougars would have an opportunity to win the game in regulation with 1.1 second left. However a shot by Brandon Davis hit hard off the iron, sending the game to overtime.
The two teams traded 3-pointers to start the overtime, as both teams went back-and-forth through the period.
The score was tied at 56 with less than a minute to go, when Morton’s Raheem Davis stole the ball and darted towards the basket. Under pressure, Davis went up for a layup to put Morton up by two, but his attempt went in and out.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game, the Cougars raced the ball up court, finding DeAndre Wansley on an easy bucket to give Newton County a 58-56 lead.
“I was just hoping it went in, because I had missed a few earlier,” Wansley said. “When I made it, I was just happy. We just had to play hard tonight. If you let it get to your head, you wont be able to get things done.”
Morton would have one final shot as, the Panthers got guard Denard Morgan the ball in the corner for a shot at the buzzer. However, Morgan was not able to connect on the shot, hitting the back of the rim to seal the victory for Newton County.
“That’s kind of the way things have been going,” Newton County head coach Steve Harber said. “We beat Choctaw Central by one Monday night, and we beat West by two, and then we beat Northeast last night. I was just hoping we had enough left in the tank.
“This is my 39th year as coach, but its tough. I’m pretty worn out. The kids played their hearts out tonight.”
The win moves the Cougars to 6-2 on the season, but more importantly it gave Newton County players a sense of swagger after the game. Wansley said after the game, people will not underestimate the Cougars again. In fact, he doesn’t feel his team can be beat.
“We played as a team and played really hard in this tournament,” Wansley said. “After this, I don’t think we’ll lose another game.”