D’Andre League was the shortest player on the court Tuesday night, but he stood tallest when the game was on the line.
League sank the game-winning shot with 5.3 seconds to play to lift the Warren County High School boys basketball team to a 40-38 victory over Franklin County at Charlie Dalton Gym.
League seemed like an unlikely choice to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game. League, who came into the game averaging 4.2 points per game, was scoreless against the Rebels until the final seconds when he came up huge.
The junior point guard was able to beat his man off the dribble, then pulled up for a floater in the lane that rolled around the rim and in for the game-winning bucket as the Pioneers snapped a four-game losing streak.
Coach Malcolm Montgomery, who had seen his team lose two of his last three games in the final minutes, thought League showed great maturity on the last play to put the Pioneers in the win column for the first time in 10 days.
“D’Andre made a great play with the ball in his hands,” said Montgomery. “He made the right decision to pull up and take the shot and he hit it.
“It was a big step for us because we’re a team that is still trying to learn how to win. We’ve had some tough losses recently where we played well, but didn’t finish strong. I think we’re getting better.”
League knew the play was designed for him to test the Franklin County defense and he took the shot when he saw his opportunity to score.
“Coach called a flat play, which allows me to attack and dish if they help,” said League. “Nobody came so I took the shot and just hoped it would go in.”
League was the hero after the game, but it was senior Kendall Rutledge who kept Warren County alive with his shooting.
Rutledge matched his season high with 20 points Tuesday, including 13 in the second half when the Pioneers were able to build a lead and hold on to the win.
Warren County went into halftime tied with Franklin County 20-20 behind seven points from Rutledge and six from senior Tucker Smith, but Rutledge was just getting warmed up.
Rutledge scored seven of his team’s nine points in the third period, including draining a 3-pointer with 3:15 to play that gave the Pioneers their biggest lead at 29-24.
Warren County would keep its lead around five until the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, aided by three layups by Rutledge in the final period, but the Rebels made a run late.
Leading 38-33, the Pioneers tried to milk the clock late but two turnovers gave Franklin County a chance to come back. After the first turnover, Montrez Vanzant sprinted upcourt for a layup which cut the Pioneer lead to three. After another Warren County miscue, the Rebels called a time-out in search of a play that could tie the game.
Matt Schmitz played the role of potential spoiler when he swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 45.8 seconds left, but the Pioneers would get the final laugh.
Rutledge went for the lead immediately after when he hoisted a 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play, but the shot hit the back of the rim and kicked out. Smith swooped in for the offensive rebound, prompting Montgomery to call a time-out to settle his team for a final shot.
League controlled the offense from midcourt as time ticked down. When he saw his opportunity to attack, League was too quick for Vanzant to control. League was able to hit the off-balance jumper in the lane as the Pioneers celebrated their first victory since defeating Daniel One Academy Nov. 17.
Coach Montgomery was pleased with his team’s play after having so many close calls.
“I’m proud of the guys and the way they played,” said Montgomery. “We finished this time against a good team.”
Nick Simmons finished with eight points for the Pioneers, followed by Smith with seven.
Warren County will try to continue its winning ways tonight when the team travels to Tullahoma. Tip-off against the Wildcats is set for 7:30 p.m.