Nick Simmons can mark one major item off his basketball bucket list. Hitting the game-winning shot is no longer just a dream for the Pioneer senior.
Simmons connected on a three-point play with 3.0 seconds left against Coffee County Friday night to lift the Warren County High School boys basketball team to a dramatic 46-45 victory at Charlie Dalton Gym.
Warren County (10-11) didn’t lead in the second half until the final seconds, when Simmons saved the day and started his team with a win on opening night of District 6-AAA play.
The Pioneers, who rallied from down nine with three minutes to play, got a final look at winning the game with 20 seconds to go.
Without a time-out to use, coach Malcolm Montgomery relayed in a play that worked to free senior shooting guard Kendall Rutledge. Rutledge got a look from the left wing, but his shot missed the mark.
Simmons and fellow senior Tucker Smith knew their job was to clean up any miss. After one missed putback, Simmons corralled the ball a final time and powered up for a layup as two Coffee County players converged on the senior.
While taking the punishment and drawing a whistle, Simmons hit the shot to tie the game at 45. Following a time-out, Simmons stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to be the hero.
A hush fell over a packed gym of Pioneer fans as Simmons took his warm-up dribbles. With no hesitation in his stroke, Simmons buried the free toss and the crowd went ballistic.
Coffee County had a final chance to win, but the Red Raiders couldn’t get off a shot in the final three seconds.
Following the game, Simmons was mobbed by teammates and fans. When asked if the pressure got to him, the 6-foot-7 senior smiled and spoke with confidence.
“I knew it was going in. There was never a doubt in my mind,” said Simmons.
Simmons’ last-second heroics capped an 11-1 run in the final three minutes, led by Pioneer seniors.
Simmons started the streak with a jumper from the baseline, cutting the Coffee County lead to 44-37.
Rutledge followed with a driving layup, then Smith got into the action as the Red Raiders needed a time-out with 1:20 to play while clinging to a 44-41 advantage.
Lucas Crismond momentarily halted the Pioneer spurt with a free throw, but Rutledge charged right back for Warren County. Rutledge drew the defense his way, then dished underneath to Smith for a wide-open layup that made it a two-point game.
Montgomery called a time-out after Smith’s basket with 36.3 seconds to go. The Pioneers were down 45-43 and with his final time-out the Pioneer coach set up the defense that got Warren County one last chance.
Warren County forced a stop that got the ball back and it ended up in Simmons’ hands at the finish.
The Pioneers looked to be in trouble most of the second half as Lucas and Lance Crismond controlled the action for Coffee County.
The brothers for the Red Raiders combined to score 22 points, including a stretch in the third quarter where they powered Coffee County to a nine-point lead by scoring seven straight points.
Smith helped the Pioneers cut the lead to three by the end of the third quarter by scoring six of his game-high 17 points in the period.
Coffee County pushed the lead right back to nine early in the fourth, but the Pioneer seniors fueled the comeback.
Each senior reached double figures against the Red Raiders. Rutledge had 14 points, including a late 3-pointer in the first half that closed the Pioneer gap to 21-20 entering halftime.
Simmons scored 10 in his first game since Dec. 21. The senior center had missed the previous four Pioneer games with the flu. His replacement in those games, sophomore Edgar Morales, scored four points against Coffee County.
The Pioneers will have all week to prepare for their next District 6-AAA game. Warren County will hit the road this Friday to face the White County Warriors. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. in Sparta.