By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
CENTER POINT — Marcus Merriweather only hit one out of two free throws with 16.6 seconds left, but it was enough to break a tie game.
Then, all that Merriweather and his Pinson Valley teammates had to do was withstand the longest 3.9 in Indians basketball history.
They did, and came away with a 57-56 win over host Center Point in the Class 5A Area 11 championship Monday night.
Those fateful last seconds came after the Eagles turned the ball over, bouncing the ball off a referee and then out of bounds in front of the Pinson bench. The Indians then threw the ball away themselves with 3.9 seconds left, which prompted Eagle coach Rodney Chatman to call time out.
Center Point the ball in and advanced it to mid-court, and Chatman called time out again with 2.9 left.
On the inbounds play, the Indians tipped the ball out of bounds, and Chatman called yet another time out with 1.9 to play.
Finally, the ball went to Jeffrey Hodge in an alley-oop attempt — and Hodge stuck the ball in the gap between the rim and the backboard. The alternating-possession arrow gave the ball back to Center Point with 1.1 seconds left, and Chatman called his last time out to set up a play.
The ball came in to Darreyl Purnell, who fired a jumper with pressure from the Indians’ Kerry Griffith. The shot missed, and the Pinson crowd went bonkers.
And Coach Clint Argo could breathe again.
“When that ball got stuck in the rim, I was wondering how just eight-tenths of a second ran off. It felt like forever,” Argo said.
While it was the last couple of minutes that ultimately decided the winner, it was the Indians’ ability to control the offensive boards that kept them in the game. In the third quarter alone, Pinson scored four baskets on second chances or more, with three of them by Johnathan Marable — including a fourth-chance bucket that put his team up by three late in the period.
“At halftime, we talked about crashing the boards, not assuming the ball would go in,” Argo said. “A lot of rebounds in the first half we didn’t convert, but in the second half we did.”
But it was a 19-point effort by Merriweather that paced Pinson throughout, proving Argo’s frequent assertion that as Merriweather goes, so goes the Indians.
“Every game that he’s played outstanding, we’ve been on the top side of,” Argo said. “He’s heck of a player, one of those you will miss when he’s gone because of what he brings to the team. He’s by far the best player at the guard position I’ve ever coached.”
Merriweather was named the tournament MVP.
Johnathan Marable finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, eight of those on the offensive glass. Devin Gary added 12 points.
Hodge led all scorers with 20 points for the Eagles, and Montego Hoskins chipped in 13.
Pinson (18-11) will host Ramsay in the sub-regional game Friday, while Center Point travels to Homewood.
[Edited at 9:38 a.m. Tuesday to correct the name of the free throw shooter.]