Senior guard Cheau Hendricks drove the lane and hit a last-second floater that lifted the East Literature Eagles to another breathtaking victory, 63-62 over Livingston Academy in the Class AA state tournament Wednesday afternoon at MTSU.
It was their third last-second win of the tournament season. All three came in elimination games, where East Lit is 5-0 this season.
This one may have been the toughest yet. The Eagles trailed Livingston by 12 (21-9) early in the second quarter and 44-34 late in the third.
Thanks mainly to another top game by brothers Logan (17 points) and Mason Ramsey (13) and a solid zone defense, Livingston appeared totally in control. But the Eagles fought back.
After Hendricks’ hoop with 24 seconds left put his team up 61-60, Mason Ramsey hit two free throws with 7.6 seconds left for a 62-61 Wildcats’ lead.
Hendrix was fouled at mid-court with 3.9 seconds left, but it was just the Wildcats’ sixth foul, which forced the Eagles to inbound again.
“In the huddle, we drew up our play,” Hendricks, who scored East Lit’s final 12 points, said. “I got through a whole bunch of screens, and I saw a little opening to the basket and I got to the rim. I was able to finger roll it, and get it just over the rim.”
The buzzer sounded just as the ball went through the hoop.
“I guess we have about one life left, but we’re one step closer to our goal,” Hendricks said.
His fourth-quarter show came after a little halftime pep talk from junior guard Nick Drake.
“I just told him to get to the basket more,” Drake, who made a key 3-pointer late in the third quarter, said. “I told him to wake up, he wasn’t playing with any energy, no spark.”
Asked about setting up the last shot, coach Jim Fey said, “I’m probably the worst at drawing up plays. I usually screw it up. But Cheau came up huge in the fourth quarter, all the way to the final shot.
“I just told him to go to the rim. If he misses, we lose. If he charges, we lose. They [Livingston] had six team fouls, so they had to be a little cautious of that, putting us on the line to win the game.”
The taller Wildcats (23-12) out-rebounded East Lit 27-20, but the Eagles negated that somewhat by forcing 11 turnovers.
“It’s been like this for a while, win or go home,” senior Aaron Booker, who scored 14 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds, said. “I kept believing. I didn’t ever think that we’d lose.”
With the win, the school earned its first state semifinals appearance. East Lit plays defending AA state champ Bolivar at 1:30 p.m. Friday. Bolivar beat Stone Memorial 82-76.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” Fey said.