By NATHAN DEENJuly 17, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (July 17, 2013) -- Philip Whittington needed just one to go down.
He wasn't having his best game at the free throw line Monday at North Highland Assembly of God, but he had three chances to send the Fort Benning Heat into the championship game of the Old School Basketball League playoffs. Coincidentally, Whittington was 3-for-9 at the line before he was fouled while attempting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a 62-62 game against the 76ers.
He just had to keep that average.
The 76ers were irate that a foul was called on the last play of the game, which was even reviewed on tape. A new league rule was implemented this year that allows officials to review the last play of the game or the last play of the first half.
The officials upheld the call and Whittington stepped to the line.
The first circled around the rim, but fell out. The second was too strong off the back rim.
"I just kept saying, 'I just have to make one of them,'" said Whittington, who finished with 14 points.
The third took a bounce on the front of the rim, took a second soft bounce off the back and fell in, giving Fort Benning the 63-62 win and a shot at the league championship. The Heat defeated the Fort Benning Warriors in the first round of the playoffs Saturday 75-42 and will play Columbus for the title at 8 p.m. Thursday.
It was a dramatic finish that capped a Fort Benning second-half comeback against the team that eliminated the Heat in last year's playoffs.
The 76ers, behind the hot hand of Ronnie Battle, jumped out to an 11-0 lead and led by as many as 15 in the first half.
Battle finished with 27 points for the game and shot 8-for-10 from behind the arc. But when it appeared as if the 76ers would put the game out of reach early, the Heat came up with two consecutive turnovers and turned each into 3-pointers, cutting the deficit to nine points.
Fort Benning stole five points in the last 12 seconds of the half -- Donald Wing hit a 3-pointer, Norman King came up with a steal on the ensuing inbounds pass and Tim Elder made a field goal as time ran out. The Heat trailed just 34-27 at halftime.
"(The inbounder) didn't see me and I just stepped in front of him," King said about the last two plays of the half. "That was a five point swing. It made a big difference."
Fort Benning switched from a zone to man-to-man coverage in the second half and the 3-pointers started falling the other way.
"We had to come together as a team and that's what we did," Whittington said. "We kept playing defense, started hitting our 3-pointers; we started rebounding and pushing the ball. It all came together in the second half."
"We weren't getting out on their open man and that was killing us. We played man-to-man the entire year. We had to go back to what got us here."
What Battle did to Fort Benning in the first half, King did to the 76ers in the second. The Heat gained its first lead in the game, 43-42, after King knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers, each about five feet from behind the arc.
"(My teammates) gave me the shots," King said. "When I'm feeling it, I'm feeling it. I'm more comfortable way back (behind the line). This game, I was feeling it. Tonight was my night.
"We knew our jumper was going to fall soon. We've got three shooters and at any given time, one of us can get on. We just kept playing."
The Heat held a 61-58 lead with under 30 seconds remaining, but a blown assignment allowed for a wide open lay up, and the 76ers scored a game-tying basket with a put-back after a missed three with five seconds remaining before Whittington ran the length of the court and got off his 3-point attempt.
King scored no points in the first half but lit the 76ers up for 15 in the second. Michael Smart scored 13 points in the paint for the Heat.