ICARD — Waylon Rutherford called them the two biggest 3-pointers of his life.
They were certainly also two of the biggest 3s in Patton boys basketball history.
Trailing by six points in both the fourth quarter and again in overtime and still down five in the final minute of OT, the Panthers roared back, taking the lead for good with 30 seconds left on Rutherford’s second late trey and stunning No. 1 seed Hibriten 66-63 for PHS’ first-ever conference tournament championship.
It capped a 3-0 week for No. 3 seed Patton (19-7), the last two wins both coming against teams ranked 12th or better in the latest 2A state poll and capped by a win over a Hibriten team who had won a season-high nine straight and claimed the teams’ first two meetings by double digits.
Ninth-year Patton coach Dennis Brittain said the groundwork for his team’s best week of the season was laid in a loss the Friday before and despite some frustrating late-season roster fluctuation.
“It’s been an interesting year for sure. It’s an interesting mix,” Brittain said. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors and a bunch of young kids, a junior or two mixed in between. We’ve had suspensions, dismissals; it’s been a different year. But sometimes when bad things happen, good things come out of it. Certainly not taking anything away from Draughn, they deserved to win that game last week. They outplayed us. But it certainly allowed us to take a step back and evaluate where we were and what we needed to do.
“And this was three of the best games we’ve played all year in a row there in one week. … This certainly wasn’t an easy task. I’m super proud of them. They left it all out there tonight. They played their guts out against a really good team.”
Patton’s biggest deficit all game came at 9-2 as Hibriten leading scorer Avery Keller pumped in seven early. Soon afterward though, he was assessed two quick fouls and then a technical, forced to sit the rest of the first half and playing less than 8 more minutes total.
Whether it was Keller’s absence or simply settling in, PHS crept back into the game when it found a pace more to its liking.
“We slowed our offense down and attacked gaps,” said Connor Rudisill, whose 10 points and six rebounds came almost exclusively in the steadying opening-half stretch. “We started off shooting way too many 3-pointers early in our offense. And we also crashed the offensive glass better.”
Long-range shots in the flow of the offense eventually fell with consistency too. The first and second of five total Jackson Vance 3s also helped shake the slow start, and Patton took its first lead on a Chris Lytle corner 3 assisted by Vance to open the second period. Vance’s third 3 gave the Panthers their largest lead at 41-36 midway through the third period, but an ensuing 15-4 Hibriten spurt gave the regular-season champs a 51-45 edge with under 5 minutes to play.
Bryson Holsclaw scored four late in regulation including a three-point play, Lytle had a steal and layup and Vance knocked in four straight free throws to tie the game 55-all with 1:42 left.
Hibriten held all the way for a last shot but missed a wing 3. Undeterred, Hibriten started overtime with six straight points and with all-tournament team picks Holsclaw (10 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) and Lytle (seven points, four assists, three steals) fouling out as PHS’ hopes grew bleak again.
Vance’s final 3 trimmed the lead in half to 61-58. After two Hibriten free throws, Vance hit Rutherford for a 3 to make it 63-61 with 53.3 seconds left. Hibriten missed the next two free throws, and Vance found the sophomore reserve once more for the go-ahead triple.
“He gave me space and I knew we had Anthony (Feaster-Hicks) and Matthew (Thomas) down there to grab the board if I missed it. I had faith in that,” said Rutherford, who had nine points and six rebounds.
“I felt confident getting it to (Waylon). I was wanting him to knock it down, and I was really proud of him,” said Vance, who was named tournament MVP after a game-high 25 points to go with four assists and cap a week in which he averaged 19.7 ppg.
A free throw apiece by Vance and Thomas and two Thomas defensive rebounds ended the game and started PHS’ biggest celebration in the sport.
“They didn’t quit, hit some really big shots,” Brittain added. “Waylon knocks down two really huge shots with no hesitation at all. Then luckily they missed and we all went to the boards and were able to get rebounds. It’s just gutsy, scrappy, fight all the time no matter what. Hopefully we can carry this over to whoever we play next week.”
The win moves the Panthers from the wild-card ranks into the automatic qualifier line for the state playoffs, and as such, could give Patton a home start to the state playoffs for just the second time ever on Tuesday.
Paul Schenkel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-432-8950.