All Arkansas City boys basketball coach CJ Jennings could do is smile.
With Arkansas City down three with under 10 seconds to play Friday at Koch Arena, the Bulldogs came up with a steal on Carroll’s end of the court. Jordan Wilson picked up the ball and fired ahead to his brother, A.J., who shot a runner from half court.
He hit it.
But the referee’s whistle was lost in the crowd’s roar. Jennings had called a timeout half of a second too early, and he said he knew it as Carroll walked out with a 56-53 victory in the AV-CTL/GWAL Challenge.
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“It’s the same thing that happened in rec ball when I was little,” Wilson said. “Exact same shot. I didn’t think he called a timeout.”
Wilson said he heard the whistle but thought someone had been fouled. He was most frustrated his team lost, he said.
“That’s a tough one,” Jennings said. “Obviously you look back on it and you think, ‘Why did I do that?’ But I thought it was the right call.”
Jennings said if he was in the situation again, he would make the same move. Carroll coach Mike Domnick agreed.
“Everyone works on that in practice,” Domnick said. “He hits that shot one in 30 times. So as a coach, I would have called a timeout and felt like crap afterwards. It’s a numbers game.
“Every coach I know would call that timeout.”
Carroll’s only playing senior, Luke Evans, was next to Wilson as he shot. Evans said he didn’t even watch the ball go in; he didn’t think it had a chance.
Evans said had it been him to have the shot wiped away, he would have had Wilson’s reaction, too.
“I would have trusted coach,” Evans said. “He probably would have had a better play drawn up than what the situation had at hand.”
Carroll didn’t lead until there was about two minutes left in the game. Ark City brought a level of physicality the Eagles found tough to match. The Bulldogs’ Cevin Clark, AV-CTL II’s second leading scorer, had control for much of the game.
As Carroll started to claw back, much of the effort was with Evans managing the floor.
With about 30 seconds left, Carroll had a chance to knock down a one-and-one at the free-throw line to make an Ark City upset near impossible. The Eagles missed.
Clark snagged the rebound for the Bulldogs and was fouled, sending him to the line for a one-and-one of his own. He missed, too.
With eight second to go, Evans was fouled and went to the stripe. He knocked them down.
“Who’s the only senior out there on our team?” Domnick said. “There you go. Your seniors should make those. They have to make those.”
After the game, Evans walked out of the Eagles’ locker room with tears in his eyes. His grandfather has been in the hospital, he said.
“I’ve been thinking about him all day,” Evans said. “I was playing for him today.”
With the win, Carroll has won five of its last six with three starters out of the lineup. Although some might place an asterisk next to the Eagles’ victory, Domnick said it is a testament to his players’ growth.
“It’s fun to see as a coach because they buy in,” Domnick said. “And they’re only gonna get better and better.”