In a last-ditch effort down by two points, Irving Espinoza went the length of the floor and heaved a shot over two defenders with outstretched arms from well beyond the 3-point line. The shot dropped through and Morrison claimed the lead by one, 33-32.
Middle Tennessee Christian immediately called for timeout to talk it over with 2.7 seconds to play. The Cougars threw the ball away on the inbounds pass and gave possession back to Morrison.
The ball was inbounded to Espinoza and he was fouled and sent to the free-throw line where he buried both free throws to carry Morrison to a 35-32 win in the James C. Haile State Tournament in Murfreesboro on Monday night.
Espinoza led the Eagle high-flying offense with a game-high 28 points that included the go-ahead 3-pointer. The Cougar defense did not have an answer for Espinoza.
Morrison jumped out quickly and claimed the lead early. Espinoza dialed up and connected on his first long-distance shot in the first quarter. He connected four more times from behind the arch.
Espinoza also took his defender off the dribble with a quick move to the basket for his only other points of the first. Kasen Holder shot 1-of-2 from the free-throw line before he knocked down a jumper in close for his first three points.
The Cougar defense covered the floor well and prevented many of the Eagle attempts in the first six minutes. The pressure defense unfortunately did not allow much in the way of offense for MTC. Matthew George shot 1-of-2 from the free-throw line and after one the Cougars trailed 8-1.
Morrison continued its attack over the Cougar defense and Espinoza connected twice from deep in the second quarter. With much of the focus on Espinoza, Myles Brady slipped free from the defense and he scored his only basket.
The Cougars turned their offense around and went on the attack. George completed a three-point play and then fired from behind the 3-point line for his only made shot from behind the arch.
At halftime the Cougars trailed 16-10.
MTC flipped the script on Morrison in the third quarter and Jackson Green and George combined for eight of the 13 points scored in the third period.
Morrison struggled to defend the relentless offensive attack by the Cougars. The Eagles maintained their pace and were consistent on getting to the rim. Espinoza led Morrison with a pair of baskets from the floor and shot 2-of-4 from the free-throw line.
Holder went back to work inside the Cougar defense after he was held scoreless in the second quarter and at the end of three Morrison held a one-point lead, 24-23.
In the fourth quarter it was anyone’s game and the Cougars decided to make a game out of it. Heath Kuykendall and George led the Cougar offense and combined for seven of the nine fourth-quarter points by MTC.
The Cougars had claimed the lead with under a minute to go at 32-30 and instead of holding the ball in an attempt to run out the clock, the Cougars shot the ball with just over :10 to play and Holder gathered the rebound and immediately found Espinoza on the run.
Espinoza brought the ball to the right and started back left where he ran into a double team. He turned back right and fired a shot over a pair of Cougar defenders. The shot hit nothing but net and Morrison reclaimed the lead at 33-32 with 2.7 seconds to play.
That proved to be the clinching shot as Morrison soared away with a 35-32 win over the Cougars.
Morrison will play Pickett County on Thursday at 8:15 p.m. in the state tournament semifinal round. A win would land them in the championship game played on Saturday.
EAGLE SCORING – Irving Espinoza 28, Kasen Holder 5, Myles Brady 2
COUGAR SCORING – Matthew George 15, Jackson Green 6, Braden Smith 3, Heath Kuykendall 3, Jack Howell 3