Class 4A boys: Madison County 49, Lovett 48

Red Raiders win top 10 matchup, advance to quarterfinals for 1st time since 1988
ajc.com

Credit: Adam Krohn

Credit: Adam Krohn

It’s any player’s dream to hit a last-second, game-winning shot in the playoffs that salvages their team’s season from elimination and advances them to the next round.

Madison County’s Grant Smith got to live that dream Saturday, hitting a mid-range, turnaround jumper with 1.8 seconds left to give the Red Raiders a 49-48 win over Lovett in a Class 4A tournament second round matchup between top 10 teams.

The shot was Smith’s only points of the game, but they couldn’t have come at a better time for the No. 6 Red Raiders (27-3), a No. 2 seed from Region 8. Down by a point against No. 5 Lovett (20-10), Region 5′s top seed, the Red Raiders gained possession after Lovett missed the first of 1-and-1 free throws with 13.7 seconds left. The Red Raiders rebounded and drove to their side of the court before their coach, Bryan Bird, called time out with 4.8 seconds left, setting the stage for Smith’s shot.

Smith charged toward the sideline inbound pass, caught it two feet inside the corner 3-point line, turned and hit a high-arcing jumper, sending the bench into a frenzy as Lovett called time out. On the game’s final play, Lions guard Christian Anderson heaved a desperation half-court shot from the sideline that hit rim as time expired.

The win puts the Red Raiders into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1988, when they won 3A for the program’s lone championship. Up next, they’ll make the four-hour trip to Savannah, where they’ll face Region 3′s No. 1 seed, the unranked Benedictine Cadets (17-5), who beat Perry 72-59 on Saturday.

“Catch and shoot,” said Smith, a 6-foot-4 sophomore wing. “If you get the ball in that situation, you’ve got to make a play. That’s what happened. We got the ball, and I made the play...We’re going to the next round, and we’re not done.”

The Red Raiders took a 7-4 lead with 3:32 left in the first quarter on a 3-pointer from Vick Hajdu and didn’t trail again until Anderson hit two free throws with 2:30 left, which put the Lions ahead 46-45. In that span, the Red Raiders led by as much as eight two different times, including with 4:29 left, which triggered Lovett’s run.

The Red Raiders stayed in control most of the game despite being called for 22 fouls to Lovett’s 14. Two of their players, Hajdu and their second-leading scorer, Mason Smith (11 points, six rebounds), fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Lions went 15-for-23 from the free-throw line, while the Red Raiders went 8-for-10.

“It was a tough game to get into rhythm because (the game officials) would call it tight, then not call it tight,” Bird said. “We had some very bad foul trouble and some guys in there at the end of the game that weren’t used to being in that situation who stepped up huge. Grant Smith is one of our best players. He had a bad night because he was on the bench with foul trouble, but he didn’t let it bother him. He came in there with four seconds left and hit the most important shot of the night.”

The Red Raiders nearly let the game slip away. After Chris Rhodes’ basket put them ahead 45-37 with 4:29 left, Lions senior guard Kyle Walters hit a 3-pointer to start a 9-2 Lovett run that ended with the Lions taking a 46-45 lead with less than three minutes.

Jay Carruth put the Red Raiders back ahead at 47-46 on a layup with 1:02 remaining. Anderson gave the Lions their final lead of the game at 48-47 on an offensive rebound and put-back under the basket with 13.7 seconds left, setting up the final sequence that led to Smith’s go-ahead shot.

Carruth led the Red Raiders in scoring with 15 points, adding five rebounds. Rhodes had 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.

The Lions, who were eliminated in the Round of 16 for the second year in a row, struggled from 3-point range and tried shooting their way out of it, but to no avail. On two separate occasions, they missed three-consecutive 3s after offensive rebounds, and made just three 3s the entire game. They were led by Anderson’s game-high 20 points, followed by Walters (11) and Cameron Foster-Martez (10).

Madison County 13 11 15 10 — 49

Lovett 8 13 12 15 — 48

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